After Albert Pujols punished the Chicago Cubs with three home runs at Wrigley Field on Sunday, the Cardinal lineup took its aggression home in a 12-4 destruction of the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on Monday. 

The strong performance at the plate was timely for the Cardinals, whose rookie right-hander, Jaime Garcia, pitched the worst home game of his career. 

And by that, I mean he struck out six batters and gave up only three runs in six innings, increasing his ERA to a mere 1.32, second in the MLB only to the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez, who already has 10 wins. 

If he can preserve his skills on the hill, Garcia may contend for Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season.  His competition will most likely be Atlanta Braves’ Jason Heyward and teammate David Freese.

The Cards’ victory earned them a tie for first place in the NL Central with the Reds, who had had control of the division after two winning series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros. 

If the Cardinals sweep the Reds, they will have a two-game command of their division when they host the pitching-weak Milwaukee Brewers on Friday. 

To earn the first place cushion they enjoyed early in the season, the Cardinals have to keep intact their prowess at the plate and their dominance on the mound. 

Rookie right-hander P.J. Walters will give his second start this year on Tuesday against the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.  In his last appearance, the 25-year-old Walters gave up only two runs to the NL West leading San Diego Padres. 

Although Cardinal pitching has been consistent in 2010, Cardinal hitting has been uncharacteristically streaky, at least at the heart of the lineup.  But Pujols’ resurgence has revived Cardinal fans’ big picture positivity. 

For now, Cardinal fans can rejoice in the comeback of their poster boy and the development of its lineup. A questionable Mark McGwire, a lukewarm Matt Holliday and an injured and underwhelming Kyle Lohse are subjects for another day.

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