The excellent pitching that helped the Pittsburgh Pirates get off to a fast start has taken a drastic turn for the worse, and their offense is struggling more and more to score runs.
Pujols has feasted on Pittsburgh more than any other team’s pitching, a trend he hopes to continue Tuesday night when the St. Louis Cardinals open a three-game set at PNC Park looking to deal the Pirates a ninth straight loss.
With a major league-best 2.97 ERA three weeks into the season, Pittsburgh (12-19) won 11 of its first 18 games to jump out to its best start since 2002. The Pirates, though, have since dropped 12 of 13 to fall from second place in the NL Central - just behind the Cardinals (20-12) - to sole possession of the cellar.
Pittsburgh has averaged 3.0 runs over those 13 games and lost its eighth straight on Sunday, wrapping up a five-game road trip with an 8-4 loss in New York. The Pirates have hit .212 during the losing streak.
“It’s hard,” manager John Russell told the team’s official Web site. “We started out well with a lot of energy. The players are still fighting, and we still have energy, it’s just that each day you lose … it’s not fun, obviously.”
Pittsburgh’s pitchers have a 6.28 ERA over the past two weeks, and that number doesn’t figure to get much better as long as Pujols is in the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup. The reigning NL MVP is hitting .370 in his career versus the Pirates with 37 homers and 110 RBIs - the most runs he’s driven in against any opponent.
Pujols is 11 for 20 (.550) against Pittsburgh this season, and he’s 14 for 28 with two home runs versus Zach Duke(notes) (3-3, 2.79 ERA), who will get the ball Tuesday. Pujols went 3 for 3 with a homer off Duke on Wednesday, helping lead the Cardinals to a 4-2 win.
“I just try to be aggressive every time, in every series,” Pujols said of his approach against the Pirates.
He was plunked by Ross Ohlendorf(notes) in the series finale Thursday, but when asked whether it had anything to do with his continued success versus Pittsburgh, Pujols said he “(didn’t) think it’s something to worry about.”
The Cardinals’ first baseman hit his 12th home run of the season Sunday, a solo shot in the fifth inning that put St. Louis up 5-4 in Cincinnati. The game was far from over, however. Closer Ryan Franklin(notes) gave up two homers that tied the score in the ninth - the first runs he’d allowed this season - before Colby Rasmus(notes) doubled in a run in the 10th to give the Cardinals an 8-7 win.
St. Louis avoided a sweep and a sixth loss in eight games.
“It was heck of a piece of work for us,” manager Tony La Russa told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “They kept coming back, but we hung in there and showed a lot of guts on our side.”
Wellemeyer gave up two runs and four hits in a 5-2 win Wednesday over the Pirates, but he was outpitched by Duke on April 8 at Busch Stadium. He gave up five runs and 12 hits over five innings in Pittsburgh’s 7-4 win, as Wilson went 4 for 5 with two RBIs.