The Chicago Cubs will embark on a 10-game road trip facing stiff competition after a dismal homestand against three of the NL's worst teams.
Beginning the trek with a victory would mark a feat they haven't accomplished in quite some time.
Chicago seeks its first six-game winning streak at either Busch Stadium in 33 years Friday night when it opens a three-game set against the arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs (23-31) finished 3-6 against the New York Mets, Pittsburgh and Houston at Wrigley Field, capped by a three-game sweep at the hands of the NL-worst Astros culminating with Wednesday's 3-1 loss.
Chicago dropped two of three to the Cardinals at home May 10-12, but took last season's final five meetings at Busch. The Cubs haven't won six straight in St. Louis since they won seven in a row at the old Busch Stadium during the 1978 season.
A rash of injuries may make it tough for the Cubs to keep their current streak alive.
Aramis Ramirez required stitches after being hit in the mouth Wednesday, though it's unclear if he'll miss any time. However, Alfonso Soriano (quad) and Reed Johnson (back) recently joined Marlon Byrd (multiple facial fractures) on the disabled list, further depleting an offense that has scored three or fewer runs in five of its last six games.
That doesn't bode well for Chicago, especially facing first-place St. Louis, Cincinnati and NL East-leading Philadelphia over the next week and a half.
"Obviously things haven't gone well for us. That's no secret,'' said first baseman Carlos Pena, who is 2 for 16 over his last five games. "I believe we're coming together as a team, as ugly as it looks right now.''
Probable starter Ryan Dempster (4-4, 6.00 ERA) has been a recent bright spot, going 3-0 with a 3.75 ERA over his last four outings. The veteran right-hander pitched the Cubs to their most recent victory Sunday, allowing two runs over six innings of a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh.
Dempster is 1-1 with a 2.86 ERA in five starts at the new Busch Stadium.
Though the Cubs have had recent success in St. Louis, so has Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia (5-1, 3.28).
The left-hander is 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA and two shutouts in four home starts this season, and 5-1 with a 0.85 ERA at Busch since Aug. 22. However, Garcia's only home loss in that span came against the Cubs on Sept. 13, when he allowed four runs - two earned - in six innings.
He got credit for a 9-1 win in Chicago on May 12, when he gave up one run through seven innings, but Garcia is now coming off the worst outing of his career. He allowed 12 runs in 3 1-3 innings of Saturday's 15-4 loss at Colorado.
The Cardinals (33-25) have lost five of eight, including a 12-7 defeat to San Francisco on Thursday. Colby Rasmus hit a grand slam and a two-run triple for a career-high six RBIs, but it wasn't enough to prevent St. Louis from dropping three of four to the Giants.
"He's got a ton of talent,'' manager Tony La Russa said of Rasmus. "The more at-bats, the more consistent he'll be.''
Rasmus went 6 for 15 against the Cubs last month, but he's 1 for 8 lifetime off Dempster.