ST. LOUIS -- Both the Cardinals and Cubs welcome a turn of the calendar page, an opportunity to put April in the rearview mirror and seek improved results in the second month of the season.
Baseball's opening month was particularly tough on the Cubs, who finished with a Major League-low eight wins and have gone 5-11 against National League Central opponents. With a win on Wednesday, the Cardinals were able to sneak back above .500 at 15-14, ensuring St. Louis wouldn't head into May with a losing record for the first time since 2007.
As it is, the Cardinals continue to fumble for consistency on the offensive end and have strung together consecutive wins on only two occasions. There was talk after they scored nine runs on Wednesday, though, that the second-biggest offensive output of the Cardinals' season could be the necessary spark.
"If we can get things going and play better as a team, I think the talent is there," said Allen Craig, whose four-hit performance in that game boosted his average to .220. "We're working hard, just the results haven't been there. I think we're going to start playing better."
The Cubs are hopeful of the same, though they'll have their hands full in the series opener. Chicago will be facing Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who carries a 1.20 ERA and scoreless-innings streak of 25 into the game. Wainwright has allowed only six runs in six starts this season, but four of those were scored by Chicago in an April 12 game.
The Cardinals moved Wainwright's start up a day after deciding to use Thursday's off-day to skip the fifth spot in the rotation.
"Everything we got from him was that he was excited to get back out there on regular rest and kind of stay in the groove that he's been in," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think we can all agree that he has been throwing the ball exceptionally well, and sometimes staying in that routine can be a benefit. We are leaning on him with that and trusting that's the best way to go at this point."
The Cubs will counter with lefty Travis Wood, who has pitched into the sixth in each of his first five starts. Wood is coming off his worst outing, one in which he allowed five earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings against the Brewers. Milwaukee was especially effective in pushing Wood's pitch count up early.
"It was a grind and a battle," Wood said of the start. "I didn't have my 'A' game and was missing balls on the arm side and falling behind with hitters, and they took advantage of it."
Cardinals: A rivalry renewed
This weekend series at Wrigley Field marks the first of three visits the Cardinals will make during the 100th anniversary season of the Friendly Confines. It has been an especially hostile place when the Cardinals have come to town, something Matheny knows well after participating in the rivalry first as a player and now as a manager.
"I just love the atmosphere," Matheny said. "I love the hatred that the Cubs fans have for us. That makes for some of the most interesting fan interaction you can possibly have."
Matheny has had the unique perspective, too, of having experienced the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry from the bullpen, which is situated alongside fans on the first-base line at Wrigley Field.
"You can hear everything," Matheny said. "There is some serious anger there. You get some interesting comments and stuff that you'll never forget or repeat. There's so much red there, too, that when we do something good, you hear it. We've had some really weird games there, too. You can't back off there for a second. That what you tell the young players and the young pitchers -- you grind for nine because you're going to see some weird stuff here. If you let your guard down in this stadium and with that team, the way they play at home, they can make things happen in a hurry."
Cubs: Castillo in a groove
Welington Castillo strung together a six-game hitting streak in the middle of the month, had hit safely in 14 games heading into Wednesday's finale in Cincinnati and appears to be benefiting from regular playing time as the Cubs' frontline catcher.
Repetition is usually the cure-all for a hitter looking to get into a groove, and this has helped Castillo with pitch recognition and simple rhythm.
That said, he doesn't necessarily want to start seeing the ball too well.
"When you feel like you can hit everything, that's when you're overaggressive and you start swinging at bad pitches," Castillo said. "It's happened to me a lot. When that happens, I try to calm down and not try to do too much. Not do 101 percent -- just do 85-90 percent and you'll be good because you're going to control your body. Just let your ability take care of the rest."
• The Cardinals took two out of three from the Cubs during Chicago's April 11-13 visit to Busch Stadium.
• Rehabbing pitcher Joe Kelly is expected to join the Cardinals on this road trip as he continues to work his way back from a left hamstring injury. Kelly has been playing loss toss and testing his leg with some light running. His next step would be to start throwing off the mound again.
• ESPN will broadcast the final game of this three-game series in the prime-time spot on Sunday night at 7:05 CT. It will be the first of three Sunday night games the Cardinals will play in a four-week stretch.
• The Cubs, who are opening a five-game homestand with Friday's game, are 5-8 at home this season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.