Cardinals-Angels Preview

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels may continue to be puzzled by Albert Pujols' sharp decline.

A victory by the home team in Thursday night's series finale in Anaheim could be even more surprising to both.

That's because the Cardinals have won nine straight road outings by Adam Wainwright while the Angels are 1-7 in home starts by Joe Blanton in a pitching matchup that overwhelmingly favors St. Louis.

Pujols has been the story of this series with the three-time NL MVP facing St. Louis (50-33) for the first time but he's 0 for 7 in this series to drop to 4 for 41 over his last 10 games.

These teams have split the first two of this three-game set with the Cardinals ending the Angels' seven-game win streak with Wednesday's 12-2 rout.

"After winning that many in a row, you almost always think you're due for a butt-kicking,'' said Angels right fielder Josh Hamilton, 11 for 27 (.407) during an eight-game hit streak. ''You'd rather lose one like this than a really close one, but you've got to put it behind you."

St. Louis has to like its chances of salvaging a split of an eight-game road trip behind Wainwright (11-5, 2.22 ERA), the NL pitcher of the month for June after going 4-2 with a 1.77 ERA over six outings.

Wainwright improved to 8-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last nine road starts Saturday with a five-hitter in a 7-1 victory over Oakland for his major league-best fourth complete game.

"He had everything," manager Mike Matheny said. "Mainly, he was very good at locating the fastball and using the curveball in different ways, different speeds, different breaks and making big pitches when he needed to."

The right-hander is one victory behind Washington's Jordan Zimmermann for the NL lead heading into his first start against the Angels. He's 5-1 with a 3.21 ERA in six career road interleague starts.

If those gaudy figures for Wainwright don't make this contest enough of a daunting task for Los Angeles (40-44), how Blanton (2-10, 5.07) has fared in Anaheim only adds to how difficult gaining a victory could be.

Blanton is 0-4 with a 5.04 ERA in eight home starts, with the Angels losing each except a 12-9 win over the White Sox on May 18. He is tied with Tampa Bay's Roberto Hernandez for the AL's most defeats.

The right-hander, however, has pitched well lately, going 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 21 innings over his last three outings.

Blanton is 3-2 with a 3.68 ERA in seven starts against the Cardinals, posting a 9.00 ERA in two last year with two different teams.

Allen Craig is 3 for 4 with two homers against Blanton and Matt Holliday 5 for 13 with two home runs.

Holliday, though, has yet to play in this series due to a pinched nerve in his neck.

"Hopefully tomorrow he's a step closer, if not able to be in there," Matheny told the Cardinals' official website.

Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter each homered and drove in three runs Wednesday and St. Louis used a seven-run second inning to take command. Yadier Molina added three hits, improving to 5 for 8 in the series and his average to an NL-best .352.

The Angels had allowed 11 runs over their previous six games before Wednesday.

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