The St. Louis Cardinals' struggles after the All-Star break are a distant memory thanks to an offense that has been putting up big numbers.
The next pitcher they face, though, may have just what it takes to slow them down.
St. Louis looks to match a season high with its fifth straight win Saturday when it takes on the Chicago Cubs and red-hot starter Jeff Samardzija, who kept the Cardinals in check in Wrigley Field earlier this year.
The Cardinals (54-46) opened a six-game trip following the break and won just once before returning home to face the Cubs (40-58) for the first of seven straight contests at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis outscored Chicago 23-1 in sweeping a three-game series last weekend before taking three of four from Los Angeles, scoring 18 runs in the victories and recording a season-high 18 hits in Thursday's 7-4 win.
The Cardinals banged out another 10 hits in the opener of this three-game set Friday, with a season high-tying five of them leaving Wrigley in a 9-6 win.
St. Louis became the first team in the majors to hit a home run in each of the first five innings since 2004, as Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig went deep.
"All those balls were crushed," Holliday said. "None of those were cheap home runs. If the wind was blowing out, those would have been a lot more impressive."
Holliday's homer was part of a 3-for-5 day, and he's batting .434 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs over his last 35 games.
The left fielder has hit five of his 18 homers this season against the Cubs, and he's batting .367 (18 for 49) with 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored in helping St. Louis take eight of 12 meetings - including the last five.
Holliday has faced Samardzija 11 times in his career, tied for the fifth-most at-bats ever against the right-hander, and he's managed just three singles.
Samardzija (7-8, 4.25 ERA) is having a great month, going 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts. He has been even better in his last two outings, posting a 0.69 ERA, and is coming off perhaps the best start of his career after giving up one hit and one walk over eight innings in Monday's 2-0 victory at Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals reached him for five runs and 10 hits over five innings in St. Louis on April 13, but he came away with the win after the Cubs jumped out to a 9-0 lead.
Eleven days later in Chicago, Samardzija held the Cardinals scoreless through 6 2-3 innings of the Cubs' 3-2 win in 10.
Samardzija, in his first full season as a starter, will be opposed by rookie Joe Kelly (1-3, 2.78). The right-hander was saddled with the Cardinals' only loss in their last eight games, 5-3 to the Dodgers on Monday.
Kelly will get his first look at the Cubs and fellow rookie Anthony Rizzo, who homered for the second straight game Friday. The first baseman is batting .330 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in 25 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on June 26.
Rizzo is 4 for 7 with five RBIs over the past two games.
"It's a good feeling to be in that kind of mindset at the plate," he said. "I just want to stick to it right now and keep going."
- Jeff Samardzija