Although Ryan Howard(notes) signed a massive contract extension with the Philadelphia Phillies last week to become one of baseball’s highest paid players, most believe St. Louis’ Albert Pujols(notes) is the first baseman more deserving of such money.
There is no question of which slugger has the edge, however, when the Phillies and Cardinals square off.
Howard looks to continue to feast on St. Louis pitching, while Pujols tries to break out of his slump against Philadelphia when the division leaders open a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.
Howard agreed to a $125 million, five-year contract extension through 2016 with the Phillies (14-10) last Monday. The 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and ’06 league MVP now trails only Alex Rodriguez’s(notes) $27.5 million average for tops in baseball.
While Howard, a St. Louis native, is averaging 49.5 homers and 143 RBIs over the last four seasons, Pujols has been a threat to win the triple crown nearly every year since his 2001 rookie season.
Pujols is in the final year of a seven-year, $100 million contract with St. Louis (17-8), and last week Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said the three-time MVP is deserving of $50 million a year, because he’s twice as good as any player in the majors.
With seven home runs, 24 RBIs and a .340 batting average, Pujols has helped lead the defending Central champion Cardinals to the NL’s best record and a 4 1/2-game lead in the division. The eight-time All-Star had a three-run double in Sunday’s 6-0 win over Cincinnati, St. Louis’ seventh victory in eight games.
Although Pujols is one of the most-feared hitters in the game, Philadelphia has done an excellent job of silencing his bat.
Pujols was 4 for 21 with a homer and two RBIs as the Cardinals dropped four of five to the Phillies last season, and his .171 average against Philadelphia since 2008 is his lowest against any team in that span. He is also 1 for 8 lifetime against scheduled starter Joe Blanton(notes).
Howard, meanwhile, has crushed St. Louis pitching.
The two-time All-Star was 9 for 18 with two homers, two doubles and 10 RBIs against the Cardinals last season, and is batting .400 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs in 13 career home games against them.
Howard hit his fifth homer of the season and finished with a season-best three hits in Sunday’s 11-5 win over New York. Shane Victorino(notes) added a grand slam to help the Phillies take a one-half game lead over the Mets.
Blanton is expected to come off the disabled list and make his season debut.
Blanton went 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 31 starts in 2009 before straining his oblique in spring training. He made three minor league rehab starts, allowing five runs over 10 innings.
The decision to activate Blanton at this time seems to be a good one, as the right-hander has posted a 1.71 ERA in winning three career starts against the Cardinals.
St. Louis counters with Jaime Garcia(notes) (2-1, 1.04 ERA), who won the No. 5 job in the Cardinals’ rotation in spring training, but has been pitching more like the staff ace. The rookie left-hander has yielded five runs over 26 innings in four starts.
“Since I was in spring training when I was fighting for a spot I said, ‘This is going to be my year,”’ Garcia said after limiting Atlanta to four hits and one walk over seven innings in Wednesday’s 6-0 win. “So far, it’s been so good.”
Garcia, who was out of the majors last season, made two relief appearances against the Phillies in 2008, giving up one run in two innings.