Preview: Kelly looks to hault Cubs recent success

While the St. Louis Cardinals sit atop the NL Central and the Chicago Cubs find themselves near the bottom, manager Dale Sveum’s club isn’t to be overlooked.

The Cubs try to keep rolling Friday when they continue a four-game set against the visiting Cardinals, who could be without Matt Holliday.

Fourth-place Chicago (41-49) has won five of six and 16 of 27 after taking Thursday’s opener 3-0. Edwin Jackson threw seven strong innings while Anthony Rizzo went 2 for 3 and drove in all the runs.

The Cubs have allowed three runs or fewer in each of their last five wins.

“Hopefully, this is (a sign of) things to come in the second half,” said Rizzo, who is 5 for 11 in the last three games and leads the team with 54 RBIs.

Thursday’s loss, meanwhile, may have come at a cost for St. Louis (55-35), which saw Holliday exit with a tight right hamstring after grounding out in the fourth.

“I think I’ll have a better feel for what it looks like (Friday),” said Holliday, who despite going 0 for 2 is batting .377 with five homers, 10 RBIs and 14 runs in his last 17 games in the series. “And hopefully, it will be day to day and I’ll be able to use the (All-Star) break, and it will be all right.”

The Cardinals, who lost for the first time in six games, have dropped six of eight on the road.

They will try to bounce back against scheduled starter Carlos Villanueva (2-4, 3.63 ERA), who had pitched out of the bullpen for six weeks before returning to the rotation Sunday in a 4-3, 11-inning win over Pittsburgh. The right-hander allowed one run and three hits but was removed after four innings.

“You always don’t dwell too much about (returning to the rotation),” he told MLB’s official website. “You’ve got to get people out whenever you put me in.”

Villanueva, who has gone 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 14 games – six starts – during the day, is 2-0 with a 4.01 ERA in his last four starts against the Cardinals. He yielded three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-4 defeat to St. Louis on May 8.

Holliday is 4 for 13 with two homers against Villanueva, but Yadier Molina is 4 for 21. Molina is hitless in his last 13 at-bats overall.

The Cardinals counter with Joe Kelly (0-3, 4.15), who has mostly been used as a long reliever. The right-hander allowed four runs in six innings Saturday in a 5-4 walkoff win over Miami.

“I felt good. Made a couple bad pitches, especially the homers,” said Kelly, who was taken deep twice. “Those pitches, I make those down and they’re going to be outs. … I’m not terribly disappointed, but I’m not too happy. I mean, we won. The walkoff was awesome, but I’d like to be a little better next time.”

Kelly’s only other start this year came in a 10-3 loss to Arizona on June 5, when he allowed two runs in 5 2-3 innings.

In his lone start versus Chicago, Kelly permitted three runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 3-2 loss at Wrigley Field last July.

Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano is mired in a 1-for-20 slump against the Cardinals.

St. Louis’ Allen Craig is batting .415 with four homers and 19 RBIs in his last 19 games.