It's not even June, so it's understandable manager Mike Matheny was a little cautious in his answer when asked if this weekend's four-game set with the Giants was a "measuring-stick series" for his Cardinals.
"We're very, very well aware of what our goal is," Matheny said. "We're measuring up against ourselves. We've seen a little bit of it. This will be a good matchup."
Friday, however, the team with baseball's best record will face the player who has arguably been the best pitcher of 2014. Something will be proven, even if it's just for one night.
Adam Wainwright will take the mound against the Giants at Busch Stadium, and the dominant righty is attempting to build on a scoreless streak of 20 straight innings. The last time Wainwright allowed a run was in the third inning of a start against the Cubs on May 13, and all the zeros he's posted since have led to a Major League-best ERA of 1.67.
In his last two starts alone, Wainwright has thrown a combined 17 innings against the D-backs and Reds, surrendered just six hits, walked one batter and struck out 21. Wainwright has lasted at least seven innings in nine of his 11 starts -- two of which were shutouts -- and the 32-year-old's 0.852 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is second in the bigs to only Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati.
Wainwright will be facing a San Francisco side that, with a 6-5 win in the series opener, improved its best record in the Majors to 35-19. It's Madison Bumgarner's turn in the Giants' rotation, which will be no easy task for Cardinals hitters.
Bumgarner will be wrapping up what's been a terrific month, as he's gone 4-1 in May and allowed nine earned runs in 32 innings. The left-hander's strikeout totals have also gone up this season. Bumgarner has 75 punchouts, and his 10.279 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark ranks fifth-best across the Majors.
"I think with his equipment and command, he's gained more knowledge and expertise on how to attack hitters," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Giants: Bullpen working together
San Francisco's bullpen depth was evident during Wednesday's 5-0 win over the Cubs.
The Giants limited Chicago to two hits, marking just the fourth time since 1900 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) that a team shut out the opposition on two or fewer hits while using as many as six pitchers.
Two of these instances were combined no-hitters: Seattle over the Dodgers on June 8, 2012, and Houston over the Yankees on June 11, 2003. Also, a cadre of Cardinals stopped Pittsburgh on two hits on May 17, 1994.
George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi, Juan Gutierrez and Javier Lopez all came out of San Francisco's bullpen to keep the Cubs scoreless after starter Tim Lincecum left after five hitless innings because of a blister on his right middle finger and a high pitch count.
Despite some ninth-inning drama, the Giants bullpen got the job done again Thursday in a come-from-behind victory. Lopez, along with Machi and closer Sergio Romo, allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings. Lopez got the win, Machi got a hold and Romo picked up his 17th save.
Cardinals: Carpenter keeps hitting streak alive
Matt Carpenter extended his hitting streak to 11 games Thursday with a 2-for-5 showing.
The infielder is hitting .360 during the streak and the 11 straight games with a hit is currently the best streak in the National League. Carpenter has upped his average by 24 points to .280 during his hot stretch, but he is still off his 2013 pace of .318.
Carpenter still has five games to go before he could solely claim the Cardinals' longest hitting streak of the season. Catcher Yadier Molina hit in 15 straight games from April 7-25.
• Pablo Sandoval hit his ninth homer of the season Thursday, a solo shot in the sixth inning. The Giants third baseman has at least one RBI in nine straight games, collecting 14 of his season's 25 RBIs in that span.
• Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight game Thursday with tightness in his left calf. Adams, who is hitting .325 this season with three home runs and 17 RBIs, pinch-hit Wednesday against the Yankees but did not appear Thursday.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.