The Chicago Cubs will carry their renewed sense of urgency into their weekend home series against the St. Louis Cardinals starting Friday.
Since starting the season 12-16, the Cubs have gone 23-11. Entering Thursday's games, they were atop the National League Central, 1/2 game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and three in front of the Cardinals.
"We're just excited about where we are in the standings and the way we're winning and playing," Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. "We can get the job done with what we have in the clubhouse. We're really confident in that group that we have."
After losing three of four games to the San Francisco Giants last weekend, the Cubs won two of three from the San Diego Padres coming into this three-game set at Wrigley Field.
"We've got a great team," Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson said. "It's not like they were some cupcake matchups. We saw some really good pitchers. The Giants, they're winning a lot of games. It just shows a lot about us, how we bounced back from that and then come play another playoff team."
Conversely, the slumping Cardinals snapped a six-game losing streak with an 8-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night. They had lost eight of nine games and 12 of 18.
"Big sigh of relief there, thankfully," said Cardinals outfielder Tyler O'Neill, who has hit 10 home runs in his past 19 games. "Felt good to shake hands again, that's for sure."
Hendricks (7-4, 4.59 ERA) will seek more success against Cardinals in his start Friday. He is 10-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 21 career starts against them
He earned a 12-3 victory over the Cardinals on May 21. Hendricks allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
He has been especially hard on younger hitters O'Neill (1-for-8, three strikeouts), Dylan Carlson (1-for-6, two strikeouts) and Tommy Edman (3-for-16). On the other hand, Paul Goldschmidt is 11-for-32 with seven doubles against him in his career.
Hendricks has a string of five consecutive quality starts with three or fewer runs allowed and six or more innings pitched.
Cardinals starter Johan Oviedo (0-2, 5.25) is still trying to settle into his team's injury-depleted rotation. After opening his season with a scoreless 4 2/3-inning relief stint, he has posted a 6.52 ERA in five starts.
"You know, 'Ovie' came here fast and really hadn't pitched much Double-A or Triple-A," Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Often, when these guys get up here, you have an assumption that they have 'this and that' in their toolbox. Not quite. We've got to hone him at this level. And we've got to start with the grass roots, pounding the strike zone.
"As soon as you realize that your stuff plays, that's the beginning of a good thing."
Oviedo lasted just 65 pitches in his most recent start, a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, but he didn't figure in the decision. He allowed two runs on three hits and three walks, one intentional.
In two career starts against the Cubs, Oviedo is 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA. Ian Happ (2-for-3, two walks, double, triple), Javier Baez (2-for-5), Kris Bryant (1-for-3) and Willson Contreras (1-for-4, walk, two RBIs) have hit well against him.
--Field Level Media