The reigning NL MVP and the Cardinals open a two-game set against the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night.
Pujols is batting .226 (14 for 62) with two homers and five RBIs in 16 games since appearing in his eighth All-Star game July 14. The first baseman hasn’t hit a homer since connecting for two in a 6-1 win over Arizona on July 17 in the first game following the mid-season break.
The slump has dropped Pujols’ batting average 20 points to .314, but his 34 homers and .438 on-base percentage still lead the majors while his 92 RBIs rank second.
“You guys think I’m perfect every time,” Pujols told the team’s official Web site. “I had a great first half, and I’m just struggling right now. I’m human just like everybody else.”
Pujols’ struggles continued over the weekend, going 0 for 9 as the Cardinals (58-50) took two of three against Houston to conclude a 5-2 homestand. St. Louis was limited to three hits in a 2-0 loss on Sunday and is one percentage point behind the Chicago Cubs for first in the Central.
“He’s in a funk,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Pujols. “He’ll fix it.”
Pujols may have trouble breaking out against Santana (12-8, 2.96 ERA), who has won both of his starts against the Cardinals while yielding three runs and 13 hits in 16 innings.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner beat St. Louis on June 25, allowing two runs - one earned - and seven hits in seven innings of a 3-2 victory at Citi Field. He limited Pujols to a single in four at-bats, helping the Mets (50-55) take three of four games.
Santana, tied with four others for the NL lead in wins, is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in his last three home starts. The left-hander continued that terrific run Thursday, giving up four hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 7-0 victory over Colorado.
“A well-located fastball makes the whole difference, and that’s what I was doing (Thursday),” Santana said. “I was able to command my fastball better than before and then that opens up the strike zone.”
Santana will try to help New York win for only the second time in six games after falling 6-5 to Arizona on Monday. Daniel Murphy(notes) homered for the Mets, who failed to complete a rally from a six-run, second-inning deficit.
Two of those outings have come this season, with the right-hander winning both while holding New York to two runs and eight hits in 17 innings. He threw a two-hitter in a 3-0 road win on June 23.
Pineiro has been excellent of late, going 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in his last five starts - all victories for St. Louis.
He was outstanding again Wednesday, allowing one run and six hits in eight innings of a 3-2, 15-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.