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Astros-Cardinals Preview

Aug 2, 2009 - 4:57 AM By MATT BECKER STATS Senior Writer

Houston (51-52) at St. Louis (57-49), 2:15 p.m. EDT

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday last week hoping his presence would make opponents think twice about pitching around Albert Pujols. With the way Holliday has been swinging the bat, opponents are going to have to strongly consider pitching around him, too.

Holliday looks to continue his astonishing surge and help the NL Central-leading Cardinals win for the sixth time in seven games in the finale of a three-game series against the struggling Houston Astros on Sunday.

St. Louis (58-49) acquired Holliday from Oakland on July 24 with hopes that the new cleanup hitter would provide some protection for the No. 3 hitter Pujols, who leads the majors in homers (34), on-base percentage (.440), slugging percentage (.667) and intentional walks (36).

Holliday, a three-time All-Star, has done far more than provide protection for Pujols.

He hit two home runs in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Astros and is batting .606 (20 for 33) with three homers, six doubles and 10 RBIs in nine games with St. Louis. He has hit in each game with the Cardinals, one short of the team record held by Charley Smith (1966) and Alvin Dark (1956).

"It's amazing," Saturday's winning pitcher Chris Carpenter told the Cardinals' official Web site. "He's really brought a lift to this team. He's done a real nice job. He's hitting like crazy, which is nice. It's brought some excitement."

It has also produced wins.

The Cardinals have won five of the first six on this seven-game homestand and own a one-half game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the Central.

A victory Sunday would give St. Louis its second home sweep of the season over the Astros (51-53), who are 2-7 at Busch Stadium since 2008.

Adam Wainwright (12-6, 2.80 ERA) has had no trouble beating Houston regardless of location.

Wainwright takes the ball after going 4-1 with a 1.17 ERA in six starts last month. The right-hander wrapped up July with another stellar performance, scattering eight hits in eight innings of a 10-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday.

"Every time I take the ball, I consider myself the best pitcher in the league," said Wainwright, tied for the NL lead in wins.

The Astros probably feel the same way.

Wainwright is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA in seven starts versus Houston. In his only game against the Astros this season on April 11, Wainwright gave up four hits and three walks in five shutout innings of an 11-2 victory.

While Holliday has helped bolster the Cardinals' postseason chances, the Astros are falling out of the playoff race.

Houston was 1 1/2 games out of first on July 24, but has lost seven of eight to drop 5 1/2 back of St. Louis.

Making matters worse, the Astros lost another key pitcher.

Wandy Rodriguez left Saturday's game in the fifth inning with a strained right hamstring. Rodriguez, who was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his previous five starts, becomes the fourth pitcher to get injured on this seven-game trip, joining ace Roy Oswalt (lower back strain), Wesley Wright (dehydration) and LaTroy Hawkins (back shingles).

Bud Norris (0-0, 3.00) takes the place in the rotation for Oswalt, who left Tuesday's 11-6 win over the Cubs in the second inning. Norris was called up from Triple-A Round Rock following that game and made his major league debut in Wednesday's 12-0 loss, allowing one run and three hits in three innings of relief.

The right-hander made 19 starts for the Express, going 4-9 with a 2.63 ERA.