The red-hot Pujols looks to continue his surge Sunday when the visiting Cardinals decide their series with the Cincinnati Reds.
Pujols has played seven games since an unexpectedly speedy return from a broken wrist that kept him out for just over two weeks. After going 1 for 12 in his first three contests, he’s 8 for 17 in the last four with three homers, including one in each of the first two games of this weekend set.
Pujols’ three-run shot got the Cardinals on the board and helped lift them to a 4-1 win Saturday. He has 20 homers this year after averaging nearly 41 per season since 2001.
“At the end of the season, he’s going to be somewhere near his career averages for everything,” manager Tony La Russa said. “The only thing is he missed two weeks, so he might have a little less of this or that. But he’s the Albert he’s been the last 10 years.”
The win, combined with Pittsburgh’s loss to last-place Houston, moved St. Louis (50-44) alone atop the NL Central.
Drew Stubbs(notes) had three hits and scored on a single by Joey Votto(notes), but the Reds (46-48) again failed to win back-to-back games for the first time since sweeping a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers from June 13-15.
Since returning June 26 from a monthlong absence due to a sprained right shoulder, Bailey has lost all three of his starts while posting a 6.00 ERA. In his last outing, he was tagged for five runs in six innings of the Reds’ 5-4 loss to Milwaukee on July 7.
The right-hander is 1-4 with a 6.03 ERA in seven career starts versus St. Louis. The win, though, came in the last meeting in Cincinnati on Sept. 29, 2009, when he allowed a run over seven innings of a 7-2 victory.
Pujols is 4 for 13 with a homer and five walks against Bailey.
Jaime Garcia(notes) (9-3, 3.22) will make his first start for St. Louis since signing a lucrative extension. The left-hander, who leads the team in wins and ERA among starters, inked a four-year, $27 million deal with two club options on Wednesday.
“Jaime is one the best young arms in baseball,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “We are excited to have him as part of the core of our pitching staff for years to come.”
While Garcia is 6-1 with an MLB-best 1.14 ERA at home, he’s failed to enjoy similar success on the road. In 10 starts away from St. Louis, Garcia is 3-2 with a 5.67 ERA.
None of those were in Cincinnati, but Garcia yielded six runs in 11 2-3 innings while winning both of his starts there last year. He gave up a run and two hits in six innings of the Cardinals’ 8-1 home win over the Reds on July 5 before heading into the All-Star break with a victory over Arizona five days later.
He now has a chance to win four consecutive starts for the first time in his career.