The Cardinals, the "Yankees of the National League," as former Cardinal first baseman Keith Hernandez often calls them, have announced their dominance and reclaimed their top spot in the NL with a smoking-hot July.
After a 12-15 spiral that briefly pushed them into second place in the tightly-contested NL central, the Cardinals have won five in a row and are once again sitting pretty in first place.
And according to run-differential, they're the best team in baseball. The Cardinals have out-scored opponents by 127 runs this season.
Heading into a four-game series at Wrigley Field, their last before the All-Star break, the Cardinals will send Jake Westbrook to the mound against Edwin Jackson and the Cubs on Thursday night.
Westbrook has been inconsistent in five starts since returning from the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. The 35-year-old allowed just two hits over seven innings against the Cubs on June 19, before allowing 10 runs over his next 10 innings.
His last outing was much better, as he held the Marlins to one run on three hits over seven innings.
"I made a few adjustments," Westbrook said.
Jackson, who was a key member of the Cardinals team that won the 2011 World Series, pitched well with the Nationals last season, but has been knocked around in his first year with the Cubs.
The 29-year-old right-hander is still striking out plenty of batters -- 82 in 93 1/3 innings -- but opponents are hitting .281 against him. Advanced metrics also indicate he's been a little unlucky, with a .331 BABIP and 61.5 percent strand rate, a below-average number. His FIP, which measures ERA independent of fielding, is a respectable 3.88.
Before Jeff Samardzija allowed nine runs over 4 2/3 innings Wednesday, the Cubs have found consistent starting pitching of late. As a team, they entered Wednesday with a 2.50 ERA in July, second best in the Majors.
"The starting pitching, it'll always come back to that, keeping us in every ballgame," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We're giving up one to three runs after seven innings, six innings, and we're in all the ballgames and we're getting home runs."
Cardinals: Carpenter to begin rehab assignment
The Cardinals received some good news Wednesday, as Chris Carpenter is feeling good enough to begin a rehab assignment.
He'll start out with Double-A Springfield on Monday and has 30 days in the Minors before the club has to make a decision regarding his future.
"There are some tests that I have to pass to get an opportunity to get into this rotation," Carpenter said. "That still has to happen. I have to go down there and get better and prove that I can stay healthy and prove that I am good enough to take one of these guys' spot. What I've done in the past doesn't mean I get an opportunity to step in and kick someone out of here when we're doing so well.
"There's a long process to what this was all about when it started. And we're sticking to that plan and being honest with each other, making sure it's the right thing."
Cubs: First-round pick Bryant signs
The Cubs came to an agreement with first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant that will pay him a signing bonus of $6.7 million, pending a physical, which would give him the highest signing bonus so far this Draft season.
Bryant, 20, was the second pick overall in the June Draft out of the University of San Diego after leading the nation in home runs with 31.
"We would need to get a feel for how rusty he is," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "Once we get a feel for his conditioning, we'll figure out exactly what the right path is. Certainly, he'll start out at the very low levels [in the Minors]. We're hopeful he can move quickly through those."
• Brian Bogusevic, hitting .290 in limited action this season, is expected to return to the Cubs lineup on Thursday.
• Yadier Molina, dealing with right knee inflammation, did not start Wednesday, but made a pinch-hitting appearance. The team will be cautious with their All-Star catcher in the near-future.