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STL@KC: Holliday is hurt running to first, exits game

The Cardinals haven't been short on power in the heart of their batting order with the combination of Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman.

They hope to receive a welcomed jolt to their lineup, however, when they welcome Matt Holliday back on Thursday in the finale of a three-game series against the Nationals. Washington rallied for a victory in the late innings of the opener, then hammered 15 hits in a lopsided win in the middle game.

Holliday -- who has been on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps -- has not played since May 31 but acknowledged he played through the injury for much of May. He also missed the first nine days of April after undergoing an appendectomy, though that ailment did not land him on the disabled list.

For the Cardinals, Holliday's latest return couldn't come at a better time, with the club mired in a five-game losing streak. Despite the production from Pujols and Berkman, St. Louis' offensive output has dipped noticeably with Holliday out of the lineup. The club has averaged more than five runs per game in 44 games with Holliday and 4.2 runs per game without him.

"He just makes our lineup better and deeper," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

While the Cardinals have eagerly anticipated Holliday's return, he noted that this comeback required patience.

"I took the first four days with [doing] nothing, and let it calm down. I have been kind of gradually working back into it, with the idea that it would be 15 days," Holliday said. "I feel good. I tested it running-wise three days in a row, and no troubles."

The Cardinals will have to solve John Lannan, who will be trying to push the Nationals' winning streak to a season-high six games. The left-hander has been on a streak of his own over his past four starts, allowing just two earned runs over 26 1/3 innings with only 16 hits allowed. He won two of the four.

Thursday marks Lannan's second start against the Cardinals this season. On April 20, the southpaw held St. Louis to two runs on seven hits over five innings for the victory. Lannan holds a career 2-2 record and 2.52 ERA in six career starts against the Cardinals.

The Cardinals, who have been grasping for consistent starting pitching in recent days, turn to Kyle Lohse. Lohse is coming off two consecutive four-run outings, but he has a 7-3 record and a sterling 2.67 ERA this year. Lohse spun a two-hitter in his only outing this year against the Nationals on April 21, fanning six.

Cardinals: Berkman blasting off
Berkman's batting average has slipped each month of the season, down from .388 in April to .262 in May to .219 (9-for-41) in June. However, Berkman's power has not slowed. The Cardinals' right fielder heads into the series finale having already smacked five home runs with eight RBIs on the nine-game road trip, though his average has dropped 16 points to .313. Six of Berkman's last nine hits have left the yard.

The combination of Berkman (17 HR) and Pujols (15 HR) ranks second in the NL among power-hitting teammates, trailing only the 33 home runs between Milwaukee's Prince Fielder (19) and Ryan Braun (14).

Nationals: Nix a reliable stick
Laynce Nix's career has not followed the typical path. After something of a breakout season with the Rangers in 2004, Nix appeared in only 102 big league games between 2005-08, before hitting 15 home runs in 116 games with the Reds in '09. After a disappointing 2010, Nix's signing with the Nats this offseason is paying dividends. The outfielder has already swatted nine home runs, including a strong month of May in which he hit .301 with five homers and 13 RBIs.

Worth noting
La Russa is just two games away from reaching the 2,500-game plateau with the Cardinals. He joined Connie Mack last week as the only managers in Major League history to surpass 5,000 games managed. His current total of 2,498 games with the Cardinals would place him in the Top 30 all-time.

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