The Cubs' record against National League Central opponents has been less than impressive this year at 19-35, but one thing they have been able to do is play up to the competition against the Cardinals, splitting the season series at an even seven games apiece heading into Saturday.
And this weekend, Chicago has an opportunity to help play spoiler to a St. Louis team locked in a tight three-way division race.
The Cubs left St. Louis last weekend with their first series win over the Cardinals since September 2010, taking two of three games, and they continued right where they left off with a 7-0 win Friday at Wrigley Field.
"Every game right now is meaningful, it doesn't matter who you're playing," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "A weekend series with the Cardinals is great for the fans, great for us. We have pulled out some games and played pretty well against them and a lot better than some of the other teams in the division. They're one of the better elite teams in the game, and you have to be your best to beat them."
The Cardinals, coming off a series win over the first-place Pirates, will look to take advantage of a six-game road trip against two under-.500 teams in Chicago and Milwaukee, with a daunting stretch of 17 games against Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh looming.
In an effort to breath some new life into the club, St. Louis called up second baseman Kolten Wong, who made his Major League debut Friday, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
Wong's arrival means less time on the field for third baseman David Freese, who will be back in the lineup Saturday against Cubs lefty Travis Wood. It appears the Cardinals will deploy Freese, a righty, against lefty starters and use the left-handed Wong versus righties, with Matt Carpenter sliding between third and second base.
Freese is in the midst of his worst Major League season at the plate, batting .269 -- his previous season low average is .293 in 2012 -- and he has committed three errors over his last nine starts. He began the season hitting .209 with no homers, three doubles and four RBIs through his first 27 games.
"I think I've done all right this month, so far," Freese said. "Obviously, you look at the numbers and this and that -- I'm just looking at how I've progressed since the first six weeks. Since then, I think I've been where I'm normally at as a player. I'm just trying to do my part, help the team. Things are going to work out. Bringing Kolten up is going to add some excitement and help us along the way."
Cardinals: Molina expected to return Saturday after day off
Yadier Molina is expected back behind the plate Saturday. The All-Star catcher got the day off Friday to rest after catching 12 innings Thursday in his first action since landing on the disabled list July 31 with a sprained right knee.
The Cardinals intend to give Molina scheduled days off to reduce wear and tear on his knees, but the extra-innings-induced rest was an alteration to that plan.
"We just have to be smart," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Obviously, I think you just look at how things go [on Thursday], and that might dictate how things look the next day. But prioritize rest certainly in the first seven days back. We have to be cognizant of that and think through it. ... Clearly we need to make sure there are breaks in his workload."
Cubs: Villanueva bumped to 'pen
In an effort to make room for the recently acquired Jake Arrieta, the Cubs moved versatile right-hander Carlos Villanueva to the bullpen, but Sveum insists the shift isn't a demotion for the right-hander.
"Villanueva didn't do anything to get taken out of a rotation," Sveum said. "It's more about getting a young kid here who we want to see pitch and finish out the season in the rotation."
In wake of Matt Guerrier's season ending elbow surgery, Villanueva offers an experienced arm out of the 'pen. In 15 starts, Villanueva was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA. He has a 3.66 ERA in 17 relief appearances this season.
"I felt like I did a good job and I gave them a chance to win," he said. "Right now, the Cubs need me to be in the bullpen, and that's where I'll be and that's where I'll do my best."
• Cardinals starter Joe Kelly is without a loss since joining the rotation July 6. Kelly faced the Cubs last Sunday, taking a no-decision in an 8-4 Cards win at home, and he'll return to the mound on Saturday against the NL Central foe.
• The Cubs' Wood is 2-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 10 starts against NL Central teams.
• Guerrier underwent surgery Friday to repair the flexor mass in his right arm. He is expected to be sidelined six to eight months.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.