HOUSTON - JUNE 07: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals smiles at third base coach Jose Oquendo #11 after hitting a home run against the Houston Astros in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park on June 7, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Albert Pujols Strikes Again, St. Louis Cardinals Top Houston Astros In Opener

Albert Pujols hit his fifth home run in the month of June to cap off the St. Louis Cardinals' series-opening victory against the Houston Astros.

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St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Berkman Pummel Houston Astros In Series Finale

Lance Lynn picked up his first win and Lance Berkman hit another home run against his former team Thursday, as the St. Louis Cardinals rolled over J.A. Happ and the Houston Astros by a score of 9-2 Thursday night. Ryan Theriot hit his first home run of the season and doubled for the Cardinals, who picked up a game on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central ahead of their weekend series. Lynn allowed one run in five innings for his win; Happ allowed six in five innings to take the loss.

Albert Pujols got the start at third base, his third of the season, with rookie Mark Hamilton at first; Tyler Greene got a rare start at second base, with Daniel Descalso coming in to complete the infield machinations after Lynn left the game. Hunter Pence had two hits for the Astros, who are just 24-39 in 2011, last in the National League. Eduardo Sanchez finished the game with two perfect innings to lower his ERA to 1.95 in his rookie season. 

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MLB Standings: St. Louis Cardinals Retain NL Central Lead Despite Astros Loss

The St. Louis Cardinals couldn't get past their natural enemy, Houston Astros starter Bud Norris, but despite losing to the worst team in the National League they retain a 1.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, taking a 37-26 record into the end of their series in Houston. The Cincinnati Reds, who continue to struggle, sit at 32-31, five games out of first place and just a half-game ahead of the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. With Albert Pujols slugging again, the Cardinals have a chance to make an early-summer push in mid-June. 

The Brewers continue their strong run on the back of great offensive performances from Jonathan Lucroy, Price Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, and Corey Hart, despite Zack Greinke's strange start. The Cardinals have looked strong in spite of injuries to Matt Holliday and Kyle McClellan, who are both expected back in the middle of June. 

For a complete look at the MLB standings, check out MLB.com's expanded standings page. For daily looks at the St. Louis Cardinals' place in the NL Central, visit SB Nation's Cardinals community, Viva El Birdos

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St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Berkman Break Up Bud Norris's No-Hitter, Fall To Astros

Former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman was the only member of the St. Louis Cardinals who could get around famous redbird-killer Bud Norris Wednesday night, hitting a home run in the seventh inning to break up Norris's no-hitter, but it wasn't enough, as the current Astros took out the first-place Cardinals 4-1. Jaime Garcia took the loss, his second of the year, while Mark Melancon, traded for Berkman, saved his sixth game for the Astros, who improved to 24-38. Albert Pujols doubled to continue his hot hitting after failing to solve Norris. 

Jason Michaels went 2-4 with an RBI for the Astros. Ryan Theriot's hitting streak was halted at 20 games, although he reached base twice with walks and finished 0-2. Jaime Garcia walked just two in five innings but struggled with his pitch count throughout and allowed seven hits and three earned runs. 

On Thursday the Cardinals move on the second-place Milwaukee Brewers. Rookie Lance Lynn will take on former Cardinals prospect Chris Narveson in game one. 

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Albert Pujols Strikes Again, St. Louis Cardinals Top Houston Astros In Opener

Albert Pujols may or may not be back, but the Houston Astros can confirm that he's here right now. The St. Louis Cardinals slugger, mired in a slump that saw him hit just two home runs in the month of May, hit his fifth home run of June Tuesday night, a deep shot against the Minute Maid Park train tracks reminiscent of his 2005 NLCS visit to Brad Lidge. But it was Jake Westbrook's bases-clearing double that secured the pitcher his sixth win of the season, by a score of 7-4. Lance Berkman also homered for the Cardinals, who now have the best record in the National League. 

Carlos Lee hit his fifth home run for the Astros, who at 22-38 have put themselves in position for the top pick in the 2012 MLB Draft through two months of the 2011 MLB season. Brett Myers was undone by Westbrook's double, allowing five runs altogether in six innings to walk away with his fifth loss of the year. 

The Cardinals will send ace Jaime Garcia to the mound Wednesday, where he'll face off against erstwhile Cardinals-killer Bud Norris. Thursday's series finale will pit rookie Lance Lynn against J.A. Happ

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