The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs have won six straight since the All-Star break and are only one game out of first place -- a 4 1/2 game pickup on the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers -- as they open a three-game weekend series with division rival St. Louis (46-49).
Chicago (49-45) will also show off its newest acquisition -- left-hander Jose Quintana -- with a Sunday start in his Cubs home debut.
First up is a Friday clash in which Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta (9-7, 4.17 ERA) will oppose Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez (6-8, 3.36).
Martinez, who pitched two innings in last week's All-Star Game, makes his 22nd career appearance (12th start) against the Cubs. He is 4-3 with a 4.16 ERA against Chicago.
Martinez is 1-0 in two starts vs. Chicago this season, most recently tossing 6 2/3 innings against the Cubs while striking out seven in a 5-3 victory on May 13. He needs one strikeout to reach 600 for his career.
Kyle Hendricks rejoined the club after a six-week stay on the disabled list caused by tendinitis in his pitching hand. He tossed five perfect innings in a Monday rehab outing at Double-A Tennessee.
St. Louis is 4 1/2 games behind Milwaukee and is 3-4 on its current road trip -- including a 3-2 Thursday loss as the New York Mets rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant's status is uncertain for the Friday game after he sprained his left pinkie finger Wednesday. Bryant caught the foot of Atlanta's Johan Camargo while sliding head-first into third base.
>>Surging Royals Host White Sox This Weekend
Ian Kennedy (3-6, 4.32 ERA) is unbeaten in his last seven starts, with the Royals going 6-1. He is 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA in the seven starts, going at least six innings in six of those games as he'll get the ball to open a three game series Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.
Chicago will counter with ex-Royal James Shields (2-2, 5.10 ERA). He is 7-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 11 career starts against the Royals, holding them to a .237 batting average.
The buzz around the White Sox is second baseman Yoan Moncada, the No. 1 prospect in baseball. The White Sox acquired Moncada, a 22-year-old from Cuba, as the centerpiece in a Dec. 6 trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox. Moncada made his White Sox debut Wednesday.
While the Royals trail the Indians by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central, the White Sox have lost six straight and are 1-9 in their past 10 games. They are 38-54, the worst record in the American League.