While manager Joe Maddon believes the Chicago Cubs can compete with the best in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to show just how far the gap between these rivals might be.
They can complete a series sweep of the struggling Cubs by winning nine straight at home for the first time in six seasons Sunday night.
Though Chicago (39-34) has led in four of the six games it's lost to St. Louis, Saturday's 8-1 defeat marked the fourth time the North Siders fell by at least three runs in those meetings. Rookie Xavier Scruggs went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and Kolten Wong drove in a pair of runs as the Cardinals (50-24) improved to 6-2 against the third-place Cubs, who are 10 1/2 games behind the major league leaders in the NL Central.
The Cardinals have batted .278, averaged 5.1 runs and posted a 0.71 ERA bullpen ERA versus Chicago in 2015.
"We have to get over the hump, and it's more a mental hump than a physical hump," Maddon told MLB's official website. "I believe in our guys, I believe our guys can play with these guys. I know their record is better than ours. There's a long way to go and we're going to get it done here."
The Cubs might be talented enough to remain a serious wild-card contender, but they don't appear on par with the Cardinals. Then again, neither does the rest of baseball.
St. Louis' five-game winning streak is its fifth of at least that many this season. The Cardinals have won 23 of 31 and are a major league-best 28-7 at home, where they've outscored their opponents 32-13 in the last eight. They last won nine straight there in April 2009.
Perhaps most impressively, they're the first team to win 50 games before playing 75 since the 2005 White Sox - who won the World Series.
''We're not completely oblivious to (the record), but we're not spending a lot of time on it,'' manager Mike Matheny said. ''It's nice watching the bulk of these guys have success.''
Chicago has been outscored 20-5 while matching a season-high four-game slide, and is 3 for 23 with runners in scoring position over the last three.
Cubs starters have a 6.05 ERA during a skid that began one day after Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.65 ERA) allowed two hits over 7 2-3 innings of Tuesday's 1-0, 10-inning defeat over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in June and hasn't factored in the decision of three consecutive outings.
However, the right-hander needs to improve after going 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals in 2014.
Jason Heyward is 8 for 14 against Hammel and batting .419 versus Chicago this season. Wong is hitting .385 with 10 RBIs during a 14-game home hitting streak against the Cubs.
Though Carlos Martinez (8-3, 2.89) gave up seven runs, nine hits and walked four in 3 2-3 innings of a 10-9 home win over Chicago on May 4, he's 5-2 with a 1.55 ERA in his last eight starts. The right-hander allowed three runs over the first two innings Tuesday, but lasted seven and struck out nine in a 4-3 victory at Miami.
This will be Martinez's first appearance since May 31 at Busch Stadium, where he's yielded six hits over 14 scoreless innings to go 1-0 in his last two starts.
Miguel Montero and Chris Denorfia are a combined 5 for 7 versus Martinez.
Rookie Kris Bryant went 1 for 1 with two walks against Martinez but is 4 for 30 with 12 strikeouts in the last nine games.