Some lineup shuffling from manager Tony La Russa appeared to get the St. Louis Cardinals back on track.
Then again, maybe it was simply a visit from the Washington Nationals that did the trick.
The Cardinals seek to continue their home dominance of the Nationals and complete a two-game sweep Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
Attempting to jump-start a club that had dropped nine of 12 and fallen out of the NL Central lead for the first time since July 30, La Russa flip-flopped sluggers Albert Pujols(notes) and Matt Holliday(notes) in the lineup prior to Monday’s series opener, batting Holliday third and dropping Pujols into the cleanup spot.
The manager said he made the move to help Holliday - batting .299 entering the series but with only four homers and 14 RBIs - although Pujols had also been playing below his usual MVP-caliber standards with a .255 average and one home run in May.
“It doesn’t matter where I hit,” said Pujols, who batted somewhere besides third for the first time since May 30, 2003, a string of 1,046 games. “I’m just glad to be in the lineup.”
The Cardinals should also be glad he’s there. While the lineup switch failed to energize Holliday, who went 0 for 3 with a walk, Pujols went 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs Monday to help St. Louis win 6-2 - its seventh consecutive home victory over the Nationals since the start of 2008. The Cardinals own a 12-2 overall edge versus Washington in that same span.
“It’s who plays, not where they hit,” La Russa said. “The lineup wasn’t anything magical or special, it’s how they played.”
One of the early season’s most pleasant surprises, the Nationals (20-19) have now totaled eight runs while losing a season-high four straight. Another defeat Tuesday would drop them to .500 for the first time since April 26, when they were 10-10.
“We’re not panicking,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman(notes), whose average dropped 12 points to .318 after his second straight 0-for-4 effort. “We’re going to keep grinding it out. (On Monday) we were just unlucky a bit.”
Though St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter(notes) (4-1, 3.06 ERA) produced his longest outing of the season in his last start, he’ll be trying to bounce back from his first loss when he takes the mound Tuesday. The right-hander lasted eight innings against Houston on Thursday, but yielded all the runs in the Cardinals’ 4-1 defeat.
Carpenter is 5-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 career starts against the Nationals franchise, but all five wins came when the club was known as the Montreal Expos. He’s 0-1 in three outings since the 2005 move to Washington, and has not faced the Nationals at all since 2006.
Washington will counter with John Lannan(notes) (1-2, 6.51), who is fortunate not to have more losses. The left-hander is 0-1 in his last five outings despite yielding four runs or more in three of them. He gave up four runs, six hits and four walks in 4 2-3 innings Thursday at Colorado, but wound up without a decision as the Nationals won 14-6.
While he’s been somewhat lucky in 2010, Lannan has been unfortunate in his career against the Cardinals, posting a 2.61 ERA in three starts but getting saddled with an 0-1 record while receiving two total runs of support.
Pujols is 0 for 5 with a walk off Lannan, while Holliday is 1 for 6 with a double, three walks and two strikeouts.