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CHC@NYM: Hendricks fans three over seven frames

At this point, the Cardinals may not even recognize the Cubs.

St. Louis, pounding through another punishing stretch run in the National League Central, will play against Chicago on Friday for the first time in a month. But it's been an eventful month.

The Cubs have promoted two of their top prospects in August, and they had five rookies in the starting lineup on Sunday. Javier Baez has shown some mixed results in his first few weeks of big league action, but Chicago added high-impact outfielder Jorge Soler to the mix on Wednesday.

Baez, MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect, is batting .189 with seven home runs in his first 23 games. Soler, meanwhile, has batted .340 with 15 home runs across three Minor League stops. Soler homered in his first Major League at-bat on Wednesday against the Reds, and he'll see St. Louis before he plays at Wrigley Field.

And it will be another rookie -- right-hander Kyle Hendricks -- on the mound in Friday's series opener against the Cardinals. Hendricks has gone 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his first eight big league outings, and he'll be matched against right-hander Shelby Miller, who has won just once since June 7.

The Cardinals have won four straight series at home, and they remained 1 1/2 games back of division-leading Milwaukee after a loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. St. Louis and San Francisco currently control the NL's two Wild Card slots, but the Pirates and Braves are hot on their trail.

Hendricks came out after just two innings last week due to a rain delay, but prior to that outing, he had completed at least six innings in each of his first seven starts. Hendricks, acquired from Texas in a 2012 trade for Ryan Dempster, has allowed more than two earned runs just once this season.

Miller, meanwhile, logged a 3.15 ERA in April and has been over 4.00 in every other month. The 23-year-old has allowed 18 home runs this season, and he's 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in his last seven starts. Miller won 15 games for St. Louis last season, and he has a career 3.52 ERA in 63 games.

Cubs: Rizzo hopes to be back in lineup Friday
First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed the final two games of the Cubs' series with the Reds due to lower back tightness, but hopes to be back in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Cardinals.

"There wasn't one thing I did that hurt it," Rizzo said on Thursday. "It just grabbed me. I'm not too worried about it. It's just frustrating. … Obviously, going through a swinging motion grabs at it, too. Hopefully, today it gets a lot better. I don't think it's going to get any worse. I'll just gut through it, worst case."

Rizzo earned All-Star accolades this season, and he's quietly become one of the most productive power hitters in the league. He has 30 home runs this season and 53 since the start of the 2013 campaign, which is fourth-most among all NL players over that span.

Miami's Giancarlo Stanton (57), Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (55) and Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez (54) are the only NL players with more homers over that time. Rizzo, 25, is just the seventh left-handed hitter in Cubs history to have 30 homers, and he's the first since Fred McGriff in 2002.

Cardinals: Veteran leadership is back
St. Louis got catcher Yadier Molina back on the roster Friday, ending a seven-week absence due to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Molina is batting .287 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 83 games, but he hasn't played for the Cardinals since July 9.

Molina, an All-Star in each of the last six seasons, began a rehab assignment with Double-A Springfield Wednesday. The Cardinals activated him in time for Friday's opener against the Cubs and optioned catcher Tony Cruz to Double-A Springfield.

"I think he can have a huge impact, and I think anybody in baseball would want to have him on their club in any capacity," manager Mike Matheny said. "We want to have him right, too, so we have to see how he looks when he gets back. The leadership he brings, everything, the package, is important."

In 133 games against the Cubs, Molina has a .307 average, 13 HRs and 76 RBIs (his most against any opponent).

Worth noting
• Eight players have made their Major League debuts for the Cubs this season.

• Chicago closer Hector Rondon has thrown nine straight scoreless innings, and he's notched eight saves in that span.

• The Cardinals gave up a homer on Wednesday, but they are one of just five teams that have given up fewer than 100 homers this season. St. Louis has allowed 96 home runs, third-least in baseball.

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