for this game

Minus Pujols, Cards to begin key set with NL-best Phils

Jun 21, 2011 - 3:01 PM (Sports Network) - With Albert Pujols set to become a free agent at season's end, the possibility remains that the St. Louis Cardinals won't have the three-time National League MVP's bat in 2012.

Straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, St. Louis will get a glimpse of life without its slugger when the club begins a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies this evening at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals have rebounded to win two straight since a seven-game slide, recording back-to-back 5-4 victories over the Royals in dramatic fashion. Matt Holliday crushed a two-run homer in the eighth inning to spark Saturday's win before Skip Schumaker connected on a solo walk-off homer the following day.

Though St. Louis celebrated as a group after Schumaker's homer, one player missing was Pujols, who left the game in the sixth inning with a wrist injury following a collision at first base. The Cardinals' worst fears were realized on Monday, when it was announced that the nine-time All-Star will miss 4-to-6 weeks of action due to a fracture in his left arm.

"It's one of those weird plays that happen in the game that you just can't avoid," Pujols told St. Louis' website on Sunday. "I wish that it didn't happen, but it does happen. It doesn't [just] happen to me. It happens to a lot of first basemen in the game."

In the final season of an eight-year deal, Pujols is hitting .279 through 73 games -- low production by his standards -- but went 3-for-3 with his 17th homer in Sunday's game. The 31-year-old is batting .343 with nine homers and 17 RBI over his past 19 games to help the Cards stay a half-game up on the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central.

However, his injury means the Cardinals will be short a run-producing bat as they face Phillies co-ace Roy Halladay, who will serve as the ghost of baseball present this evening as he takes aim at becoming the first 10-game winner of this season.

Halladay has haunted the Cardinals in limited action against them, winning a pair of starts while allowing just two earned runs and striking out 14 to just three walks over 16 innings.

The right-hander had won three straight starts overall prior to a no-decision on Wednesday against the Marlins. Halladay gave up four runs on six hits over seven innings, striking out eight in his team's 5-4 win. His four-decision win streak remained intact, however, and the 34-year-old hasn't lost since May 15.

Halladay is 9-3 with a 2.56 earned run average through 15 starts and is second in baseball with 114 strikeouts. He has pitched at least seven innings in 11 straight outings and issued a mere three walks in his past six starts.

Teammate Cole Hamels could have beaten the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to the punch on Sunday, but was denied his 10th victory in a 2-0 setback to the Mariners. Hamels gave up both runs over 6 1/3 innings, while posting six strikeouts that included the 1,000th of his career.

However, the Phillies were limited to just three hits by Seattle starter Jason Vargas, who pitched a complete game. Ryan Howard had two of those hits as the Phils were shut out for the fifth time this year and dropped two of three in the set after winning seven in a row.

"You have to give him credit, he mixed it up well," Howard said of facing Vargas. "He didn't necessarily have to throw stuff for strikes. He threw enough for strikes to where it kind of got us to get a little bit out of our element, guys were just a little bit out in front of pitches. He threw well."

Philadelphia still leads Atlanta by 4 1/2 games for first place in the NL East and will look for the St. Louis-born Howard to dazzle his hometown once again. In 23 career games at Busch Stadium, the former MVP is hitting .365 with eight homers and 31 RBI.

Hoping to keep Howard in check will be Kyle McClellan, who has lost two straight starts and three of four decisions since a 5-0 beginning.

The right-hander gave up seven runs over four innings of a loss to the Giants on May 30, then landed on the disabled list due to a left hip flexor strain. He returned last Wednesday to face the Nationals, but allowed five runs -- three earned -- on seven hits over five innings of a loss.

The 27-year-old McClellan has a 3.96 ERA through 12 games this year and will make his first career start versus the Phillies. He does have a 4.50 ERA in 10 career relief outings in this series.

The Cardinals swept a two-game set at home against the Phils from May 16-17 and have won five of the past six meetings between the teams, with each of those games taking place at Busch Stadium.