ST. LOUIS -- In what was regarded by some as a make-or-break season for St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, he mirrored his team and didn't exactly roar out of the gate.
While Wong hit well, he didn't field to his capability, often following a great play with an error. He also mixed in a few baserunning mistakes, doing so seemingly at the worst possible time.
But of late, Wong has mirrored his team in a different way. He's continuing to get his hits while displaying some of the best plate discipline of his career and delivering the kind of plus defense that makes him an asset instead of a liability.
Wong's fingerprints are all over a seven-game winning streak that he'll try to help extend to eight Saturday night when St. Louis hosts Atlanta in the middle game of a three-game series in Busch Stadium.
During Friday night's 8-5 win, Wong affected the texture of the game on both sides of the ball. He ripped an RBI double that started a four-run second inning and scored on Randal Grichuk's triple an inning later.
Defensively, he made two nice plays to deny the Braves hits, including a short-hop snag of Jace Peterson's one-hop shot to start the seventh.
"Both sides of the ball, you can see he has confidence," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Wong. "He can make the tough play look routine. And he's in a very good place offensively. You see him driving the ball, taking that good short swing."
Wong enters the game batting .304 with two homers and 30 RBIs. His 21 doubles are more than anyone else on the team except Matt Carpenter, and his 29 walks are just seven off tying his career high.
"The thing about this team is that we're turning the page real quick," Wong said. "We come in here every day with the mindset of getting victories. We know how good a team we are, and we're not done yet."
At 60-56, the Cardinals are a game behind the Chicago Cubs for first place in the National League Central. They are also making up ground for the second wild-card spot, moving within 4 1/2 games of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
St. Louis will send ace right-hander Carlos Martinez (8-9, 3.52 ERA) to the mound. Fresh off an 11-3 win Monday night at Kansas City in which he worked eight innings, giving up two runs and fanning seven with no walks, Martinez will look to square his season record at .500.
He has faced Atlanta seven times in his career, three of them as a starter, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA. The one loss occurred last August in Busch Stadium.
Rookie Lucas Sims (0-2, 5.25) will make his first big-league start on the road. Sims suffered a 4-1 loss Sunday to Miami, working six innings and allowing four runs and six hits. Two homers in the first inning led to all the offense the Marlins needed.
Sims will try to quiet an offense that has scored 62 runs during its winning streak, 58 in the last six games. The Cardinals roughed up Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves' top starter this year, for seven hits and six runs Friday night in 2 2/3 innings.
"It's a hot team and when he missed, he got hurt," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "It's one of those games. You don't want it to happen, but it does."