It was a monster game for Philadelphia's first basemen Ryan Howard as he hit 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI. The young slugger single-handedly won the game for the Phillies as they defeated St. Louis 4-1 on Thursday.
Indicative of their inconsistent play in July, Braden Looper allowed the two jacks by Howard as the Cardinals now fell into third place in the NL Central. St. Louis has now lost six of their nine games in July.
It seems that any momentum heading into the All-Star break seems to be slipping away as St. Louis limps into the second half of the season. Maybe the Redbirds never wanted June to end.
As is the tale in baseball, the numbers do not lie. Since July began, the Cardinals are only batting a miserable .235 as a team with a horrendous .295 on-base percentage coupled with a .389 slugging percentage.
According to manager Tony La Russa, the Cardinals need to be looking to swing when they come up to the plate.
"We had some good at-bats and we had some that weren't really that good," La Russa said. "I thought we took an awful lot of strikes today. We could have been more aggressive. You take strikes and then you're in a position where you're either defending to put the ball in play or chasing ones that aren't as good. I didn't think we did a very good job of being aggressive with hittable pitches."
The jump start Albert Pujols provided when he came back from the disabled list has not lasted. The now 7-time All-Star has still contributed in this treacherous stint of games but hasn't been able to do much damage as the Cardinals continually manage to leave runners stranded on base.
"We hit a couple of balls hard, but we should have done a better job the last couple of days than we have," said Pujols. "We just haven't put a streak together with a bunch of base hits in one inning--we've got a hit here and there, a couple of hits, but we haven't gotten the big hit we need."
Despite solid pitching outings from Joel Pineiro and Brad Thompson and even the untimely dismissal of Mark Mulder, the Cardinals could not capitalize. The bullpen has shown flashes of dominance but only followed up by an implosion the very next night.
The latest outing with Braden Looper was just the same old story as he perpetuated the standing of Ryan Howard being the "Cardinal Killer". Howard, who is heating up faster than the summer temperatures, already owns an MVP trophy and his steadily aiming his cites on his first championship.
Even Looper himself knew how much of a slugger Howard could be.
"I made a bad pitch the first inning," Looper said. "It was 3-2, I was trying to go down and away, and I pulled it and it was down and in. He just stayed through it. He's got tremendous power.
"The second one was a changeup on the black a little above the knee that he just popped up to left field that carried out of this ballpark. It's probably a can of corn at our place. But you've got to get that ground ball there rather than letting him put the ball in the air."
As the Cardinals desperately try to keep pace in the NL Central, their unquestioned leader knew that in a small ball park like Philadelphia, St. Louis needed more.
"That's not a lot of runs for this park," said Pujols, before adding, "Obviously it was enough to lose the series."
Maybe this will be a battle cry for his teammates to try harder, but one thing is for certain. The Cardinals need to get things back on track.
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