The Chicago Cubs can make an early statement by completing a three-game road sweep against the rival St. Louis Cardinals. They also have a chance to match their best start in 109 seasons Wednesday afternoon.
Chicago opened its stay in St. Louis with a 5-0 victory Monday but had to endure some October-style tension the following night for a 2-1 win. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel drove in both runs with a single in the fourth, and Jason Heyward made a pivotal defensive play by throwing out Matt Holliday at the plate to end the bottom of the inning.
The right fielder is 0 for 9 in the two games against his former team and 1 for 21 in his last six. The Cubs also overcame a season-high 13 strikeouts Tuesday.
"I feel that it's important that we're winning ballgames right now with not everybody hitting," Heyward said. "That's not going to happen all the time. At the same time, we know we can get hotter as a group offensively. We're just doing a lot of little things right like grinding it out at the plate."
The Cubs (11-3) haven't won 12 of their first 15 games since 1970, which marked their best start since going 13-2 in 1907. Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 2.84 ERA) will try to boost his team to another win while producing a better outing than in a 6-1 loss to Colorado on Friday.
The right-hander gave up four runs - two earned - and seven hits in six-plus innings after yielding two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings in his season debut, a 4-2 win in Arizona on April 9.
Hendricks is 0-1 with a 4.28 ERA in five career starts against the Cardinals, including Game 2 of last year's NL division series. Chicago hasn't swept three games in St. Louis since Sept. 13-15, 2010.
Hendricks will also try to become the Cubs' 15th consecutive starter to last at least six innings. Their current streak is MLB's longest to begin a season since 1988 (Houston 22, Cleveland 17).
St. Louis (7-7) will try to break an 0-for-19 drought with runners in scoring position over its past three games. The Cardinals have gone 0 for 14 against the Cubs.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing against," manager Mike Matheny said. "If we don't execute in those situations, we don't get the job done and do the little things right, it doesn't matter who we're playing. We've just got to control what we control."
The Cardinals went 6 for 9 with four home runs in those situations in Carlos Martinez's latest start, a 14-3 rout of Cincinnati on Friday. Martinez (2-0, 3.46) gave up three runs in seven innings while enjoying 12 runs of support, and he has gotten a combined 20 in his first two starts for an MLB-best 13.85 per nine innings.
Martinez was 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA in his final three starts against the Cubs last season after giving up seven runs in 3 2-3 innings in his first, a 10-9 win May 4. Kris Bryant is 1 for 7 with three strikeouts against the right-hander.
Matt Carpenter is 7 for 12 with two home runs against Hendricks, including the postseason, and Holliday is 6 for 14 with two homers.