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Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Astros

The Cardinals (36-25) head to Houston after a disappointing series loss to the Giants followed by a sweet sweep of the Cubs that served double duty as the welcome back party for Albert Pujols.

The St. Louis slugger celebrated his return to MVP form with a pair of walk-off, extra inning homers against the Wee Bears to rally the Birds to a 4-3 homestand.

Houston has been a mess lately, falling to 23-37, which is by far the worst record in the National League. The Astros are 11-17 at home while St. Louis is 18-13 on the road. Houston is 12-17 against Central Division foes while the Cards are 14-9 against division foes.

While Pujols will hopefully continue his hot hitting of late, hopefully he'll have a little bit of help this time around. While Matt Holliday remains on the disabled list because of his sore quad, former Astros slugger Lance Berkman is expected back Tuesday night after missing a couple of games following getting a shot in his wrist.

Cardinals leadoff man Ryan Theriot kept his 19-game hitting streak alive with a two-out, two-strike hit in the ninth Sunday to force extra innings.

Former St. Louis farmhand Brett Wallace is hitting .319 for Houston. But he's doing it with little power, stroking only four homers while driving in 18. Houston's high dollar slugger, Carlos Lee, has been a major disappointment with a .257 batting average to go along with four homers and 29 driven in.

Pitching match-ups:

In the opener the Redbirds will send Jake Westbrook (5-3, 5.15) to the hill against Brett Myers (2-4, 4.82). The Cardinals have won three of Westbrook's last four starts to improve his ERA by nearly a point. In his most recent outing, Myers beat the Cubs with three hits and a run allowed over six innings to notch his first victory since April 12. In 7 2/3 innings he's given up 83 hits -- 10 of them home runs.

Jaime Garcia (6-1, 3.05) will face the immortal Bud Norris (3-4, 3.95) in game two. The Cardinals have won five of the last six games that Garcia has started. The young lefty was brilliant Friday night against the Cubs with four hits and one run allowed over eight innings. Norris, who oddly seemed to cast a spell over Cardinals hitters while the rest of the league beat him like a rented mule, seemed to run out of pixie dust his last time out against St. Louis. The Cardinals scored five runs in five innings against Norris to get a win May 18.

The Cardinals will send rookie Lance Lynn (0-1, 8.44) to the hill Thursday against JA Happ (3-7, 4.65). Lynn pitched a lot better in his first game than his stats would seem to indicate. He was cruising through five innings before some poor defense caused him to come unglued. It will be interesting to see how an inexperienced kid fares in the shadows of the intimidatingly shallow Crawford Boxes at the Astros' ballpark. Happ pitched five innings in his previous match-up with the Cardinals this season and allowed two runs on five hits with five strikeouts. But he was still tagged with the loss.

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