The St. Louis Cardinals try to extend their team-record 15-game winning streak on Sunday when they close their four-game road series against the Chicago Cubs.
The Cardinals (86-69) have sandwiched 8-5 victories around a 12-4 decision to win the first three games against the Cubs (67-88) at Wrigley Field.
St. Louis reduced its magic number to three for securing the second wild card in the National League.
The Cardinals were just 44-47 on July 16. But their late preseason charge, aided by the addition of pitchers like T.J. McFarland, has put them on the brink of the postseason play.
"Coming in (during July) I knew that (Paul) Goldschmidt was here, I knew (Nolan) Arenado was here, I know (Adam) Wainwright was still throwing," McFarland said. "I knew all these guys were here and obviously a lot of the younger talent.
"You knew it was there, it was just a matter when it was all going to click. And right now we're all clicking. When one aspect of the team isn't pulling its weight, someone else is picking up the slack. That's the recipe for a successful team."
The Cubs have lost five in a row and 12 of their last 14 games. They are closing out this season by auditioning players like Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega and Frank Schwindel for roles next season.
"I really respect the effort these guys have given," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "They had an amazing opportunity to come in and play every day for two months and, to their credit, a bunch of these guys have really grabbed that opportunity and run with it.
"Watching that passion every day -- they come to the ballpark to prove something. They're proving something to the Cubs. They're proving something to the league."
Cardinals starting pitcher Jake Woodford (3-3, 3.92 ERA) will try to build on his strong finish. He is 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA in three starts and one relief outing in September.
"Seeing the guys go out there and have success definitely gives you that little extra sense of urgency to go out there and compete," Woodford said. "But this is September baseball. You don't really need a whole lot more to get you going than that."
Woodford is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA on three outings against the Cubs this season, including one start. Willson Contreras (3-for-6, double, two homers), Ortega (2-for-2), Sergio Alcantara (1-for-1, homer) and Wisdom (1-for-3) have fared well against him in small sample sizes.
Cubs starting pitcher Keegan Thompson (3-3, 3.40) will continue to progress in his comeback from shoulder soreness. In his first game since returning from the 10-day injured list, Thompson threw 40 pitches and two scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers.
In five relief appearances against the Cardinals this season, Thompson allowed three runs on seven hits (including two homers) and two walks.
Yadier Molina (2-for-3), Tommy Edman (2-for-4), Dylan Carlson (1-for-2, homer, two RBIs) and Goldschmidt (1-for-3, homer) had success against him in small sample sizes.
--Field Level Media