The City of St. Louis is buzzing about the possible return of Albert Pujols.

Pujols has been on the disabled list since suffering a broken hand in a game against the Royals. He wasn’t expected to return until August but after undergoing batting practice and taking infield on Monday, Prince Albert reported no pain.

Edinson Volquez Pitching Cincinnati RedsToday is the first day he can come off the DL but word on his availability isn’t expected until closer to game time.  Having Pujols back in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Cardinals especially with Matt Holliday struggling. Pujols was starting to come around at the plate before he got hurt and had raised his average to .279 with 17 homers and 45 runs batted.

Dandy Duel

Tonight’s pitching matchup promises to be a good one. Edinson Volquez (5-3, 5.65 ERA) is slated to go for the Reds. He’s 1-2 in five career starts against St. Louis and was the losing pitcher on April 24 dropping a 3-1 decision to the Cardinals. Manager Dusty Baker will need to have the Reds bullpen given as how Volquez has only gone seven innings once this year. That’s well short of his opposite number Jamie Garcia who has thrown two complete games and given St. Louis nine quality starts.

Meanwhile Garcia (7-3, 3.33) will be out to improve on an impressive 4-1 home record and 0.88 ERA. He’s also unbeaten in his career against Cincinnati going a perfect 4-0 with a 3.70 ERA.

Garcia opened in the baseball betting as a -155 moneyline favorite with a total of 8. Game time is 7:10 PM ET from Busch Stadium.

 Pitcher’s duel

Chris Carpenter, working as a -120 betting odds favorite outpitched Johnny Cueto on Monday night as the Cards beat the Reds 1-0. Both pitchers worked eight innings and allowed six hits with Cueto getting credit for a complete game. Joey Votto had three of Cincinnati’s hits while Mark Hamilton had a pinch-hit infield single to score Colby Rasmus with the only run of the game.

Albert Pujols Batting St Louis Cardinals

The victory, coupled with Milwaukee’s 8-6 loss to Arizona, moved the Cardinals into sole possession of first in the National League Central one-game ahead of Milwaukee, 1 ½ games in front of Pittsburgh with Cincinnati three games off the lead.

St. Louis (46-40) is now 17-13 against the Central Division and 29-27 against the rest of baseball including an 8-7 interleague mark. The Reds (43-43) are 24-15 within the division but were just 6-12 in interleague play. This will be the eighth meeting of the year between the two longtime rivals with Cincinnati taking four of the first seven meetings.

It’s been no Holliday

My, how the baseball fortunes can change. The last time these two teams met in May, Matt Holliday led the majors in batting with a .398 average. Since then he’s hitting .226 and has lost 82 points off his average. You can count him as one the people who will be happy to see Pujols come back.

Lance Berkman has carried the load for the Cardinals hitting .295 with 22 home runs and 61 runs batted in. Overall St. Louis is second in hitting (.269) and fifth in scoring (4.64).

The Reds are fourth in runs per game (4.71), ninth in hitting (.264) and eighth in home runs (91). Joey Votto leads in batting (.318) and RBI’s (52) while Jay Bruce has 18 homers and 51 runs batted in.

The Busch Stadium forecast is calling for mostly clear skies and temperatures in the 80’s.

Harvey’s Take: It’s tough to go against Garcia especially at Busch Stadium. His ERA is under a buck and he’s lost just once. I’ll side with him tonight and I’ll make a small play on the under.

Good Luck.