Time is running out on the Chicago Cubs to make a run at the postseason.
Chicago (82-71) will try to bounce back from an extra-innings loss against St. Louis (86-67) when the teams meet Friday afternoon for the second installment of a pivotal four-game series at Wrigley Field.
Only nine games remain in the regular season for each team.
"It's definitely a different position than we're used to these last couple years, but let's write our own story," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters. "We can make this a really cool story if we take advantage of this series and the rest of the games we have against the Cardinals as well as against the Pirates."
It won't be easy.
The Cubs had planned to start veteran southpaw Cole Hamels on Friday, but he was scratched one day earlier because of left shoulder fatigue. Hamels is expected to skip one turn in the rotation and start next week instead.
"If Cole says he's hurting, he's hurting," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters.
That means Cubs right-hander Alec Mills (1-0, 3.42 ERA) will make his third start of the season and fifth start of his career. The 27-year-old Tennessee native made a pair of starts in mid-July before returning to a bullpen role.
Mills likely will be on a pitch count with fellow right-hander Tyler Chatwood available in a long-relief role. Mills is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two relief appearances against the Cardinals in his career, allowing two runs in four innings.
"In a weird way, having this great depth that's able to cover these particular maladies, I think we're covered," Maddon said.
The Cardinals will turn to veteran right-hander Michael Wacha (6-7, 4.76), who is set to make his 23rd start of the season. The 6-foot-6 Texan is coming off a solid performance against the Brewers on Sunday in which he scattered five hits over five scoreless innings.
In 19 career games (17 starts) against the Cubs, Wacha is 4-8 with an unsightly 6.68 ERA. He has not pitched well at Wrigley Field, going 1-4 with a 6.11 ERA in nine games (eight starts).
The Cardinals could be without second baseman Kolten Wong, who left Thursday's game in the fifth inning because of what the team later described as a left hamstring injury. Wong grabbed his leg as he tried to run out a ground ball.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will wait to see whether first baseman Anthony Rizzo is available to play for the second game in a row. Rizzo returned unexpectedly Thursday from a sprained right ankle and belted his 27th homer.
St. Louis was 0-6 in Chicago this season before holding on for an extra-innings win in the series opener.
"This is a different team that we're bringing in than some of those other teams coming in here," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "I feel good about what we're bringing. I think we've grown. There's no question. This team has gotten better as the season's gone on. That's what we do."
--Field Level Media