The Cardinals rolled into this season's All-Star break gaining games on first-place Milwaukee on a daily basis, but they have emerged from the break only to begin falling back in the National League Central. The Cubs, meanwhile, are grinding through a new-look roster, having gone 4-13 since the July 4 trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics.
"Things haven't gone as well as we'd like over the last couple weeks, and that's just the game," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We have to keep sticking together, keep pulling together, keep trusting each other and keep going out there and doing the best we possibly can and make the adjustments we need to make."
In the Cubs' 7-6 win over the Cards on Friday, Chicago seemed to make that adjustment. The loss for the Cardinals pushed their losing streak to a season-high four games and continues a slide on the heels of a surge that brought them into a tie with the Brewers atop the division one day before the break.
Looking to snap the Cardinals' skid is starter Shelby Miller, returning to the rotation against the Cubs' Jake Arrieta on Saturday. Miller has battled inconsistent mechanics through the season's first half, pushing him to the bullpen to begin the second half while the Cardinals shifted to a four-man rotation.
Miller, who has dealt with back tightness in recent weeks, pitched fewer than six innings in 11 of his 19 starts and last started July 10, although he made a one-inning appearance out of the bullpen on July 20.
"My back feels good," Miller said. "It's kind of a little fatigued, and that can make the mechanics a little off, but right now I feel really strong. I feel like my body is where it needs to be. I feel like everything is really loose and put together. I feel strong, and that's the feeling you want ... going out there."
Arrieta has been a beacon of consistency for the Cubs, notching quality starts in each of his last eight starts while allowing two runs or fewer in six of them.
As August nears, the Cardinals and Cubs have one thing in common.
"We just have to keep pushing," Renteria said. "We have 61, 62 ballgames of the regular season left, and we have to keep grinding."
Cardinals: Craig still searching for his groove at the plate
The 2014 season for Allen Craig has been one of ups-and-downs and one mostly of searching for the swing that made him an All-Star one season ago.
Through a 12-game stretch in early June, Craig collected hits in 11 games, hitting .333 during that span and upping his average to .264. It has dipped since then to .240, and Craig is hitting just .136 (6-for-44) in July with only two extra-base hits.
"It happens to everybody," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He hasn't had it happen that much to him that often, if ever, obviously to this degree. It's been a situation where it's just hard to figure it out. But for what he's done for such a long period of time as the hitter that he is, right now he's in a fight to figure it out and get it right."
Cubs: Renteria has message to youngsters
At 22-years-old and just 12 games into his Major League career, Cubs second baseman Arismendy Alcantara is still finding his way.
Alcantara isn't the only one on a Cubs team that will likely only get younger as top prospects continue to arrive from Triple-A Iowa. Cubs manager Rick Renteria has a simple message.
"I tell them, 'Don't try to do too much. The game is the same,'" Renteria said. "What they end up finding is that Major League pitchers and Major League hitters, they make adjustments. [Alcantara], they've been trying to adjust to him. They're trying to take advantage of him, throwing more offspeed pitches, breaking balls and seeing if they can get him to chase. He's making adjustments. Those are the biggest things I can share with them."
Alcantara, who hit .307 in 89 games at Triple-A, is hitting .275 in the big leagues.
• The Cubs' Justin Ruggiano was available to pinch-hit Friday and struck out when he did so for the pitcher in the sixth, but he wasn't quite ready to play in the outfield. Ruggiano has been dealing with a mild groin strain and has not played since Tuesday.
• While the Cardinals sit 29th in the Majors in home runs this season, the team has seen a July surge. With two homers Friday, the Cardinals have hit 19 of their 67 homers this season this month.
• Arrieta has had success against Cardinals hitters he has faced during his career. While Cards shortstop Jhonny Peralta is 5-for-10, the team as a whole has gone 11-for-56 (.196) against Arrieta.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.