ST. LOUIS — Depending on which National League Central team most challenges their supremacy, the St. Louis Cardinals have had different rivals in recent years.
But the Chicago Cubs remain the Cardinals' chief rival.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny downplayed it slightly Friday, but he recognized the extra emotion when the Cubs come to St. Louis or the Cardinals visit Chicago.
"We've all been kind of conditioned that you try to make every game a rivalry to be consistent with it, regardless of who it is," Matheny said. "But you can't help but feed off the life that the fans have. Some Cubs fans show up here, like our Cardinals fans show up in Chicago.
"It's a great atmosphere whenever we play these guys. It just seems to be that extra excitement that you do feed off of."
The Cubs haven't had a winning season since 2009 when they were 83-78. They won the NL Central in 2007 and 2008. Since then, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have taken turns stepping into Chicago's shoe as the Cardinals' perceived top rival.
Second baseman Mark Ellis, recovering from tendinitis in his left knee, simulated swings and ran in the outfield before the game Friday. Ellis did straight-line running and also sprinted on the edge of the outfield grass, as if he were on the basepaths.
"It felt very good," an upbeat Ellis said. "It was definitely a lot better than it even was two days ago. It's getting stronger and everything is feeling a lot better. I should be really close. It should be any day now. I've got to get with the trainers and Mike and see what we're going to do."
Matheny said Wednesday that Ellis might be able to get enough work in on the side to avoid a minor-league rehab. That continues to seem like a possibility for the 36-year-old Ellis, whose role with the Cardinals will be as a backup to rookie Kolten Wong.
"We'll see how he looks before we (set) any kind of timetable or expectations," Matheny said. "It depends how he feels. I know he's been around long enough to kind of know when he's right and when he's close. Sometimes that rehab assignment can help, and other times, it's not as effective. A lot of it has to do with how the guys have done in the past with it.
"We'll kind of watch him these next couple of days and see how his body feels and see how he's moving, swinging, throwing. Right now, things are moving in a good direction. He's got to be 100 percent or else we would have (activated him) on Opening Day. We're going to keep trying to get him to that spot where he has no limitations."
Ellis hopes to avoid the minors.
"Minor-league rehabs are the worst, I think, if you ask any big-league player," he said. "It might be something that might be necessary, but you try to avoid them at all costs. It's not something you love doing."
Evaluating the 'O'
The Cardinals began Friday with a 5-4 record despite a team average of .215. Their 29 runs rank 12th in the NL and they have scored two runs or less five times.
St. Louis also had just six home runs, two stolen bases and a .294 on-base percentage.
Of course, it is early, and even though Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta have contributed little, the Cardinals aren't concerned.
"I don't think anybody doubts that we've got the potential to throw up some good offensive numbers," Matheny said. "But there's going to be times when you have it and there's times where you've got to scratch for (runs). Right now, we're scratching a little bit.
"Overall, though, I like the approach the guys are taking. I like the way they're going about (the at-bats). It's just going to be the consistency. It sometimes takes a little time to hit that stride."
First baseman Matt Adams said it's far too early to draw conclusions.
"It's early still," he said. "We're just getting comfortable and seeing the pitchers. We know we're a good offensive team. Runs will come. We're just trying to go out there and compete every day. We've got to continue to keep playing. We believe in ourselves. The offense will pick up. You've got to see the ball and hit the ball."
Adams settling in
Adams has made a seamless adjustment to his first season as a starter. The Cardinals' main left-handed power source began Friday batting .364 (12-for-34) with a club-high four doubles, although he was without a homer and his one RBI came against a left-hander.
"I've just told myself that I wanted to hit the ball where it's pitched," Adams said. "They're pitching me (outside), so I'm just taking what they're giving me. I'm sticking with the same approach to go to the big part of the field and staying up the middle."
Matheny said Adams looks the same as he did last season.
"I see a similar approach to what he did last year," he said. "He's learning the league a little more, (and) they learn him. It's who's quicker on that learning curve.
"Right now, he's trying to figure out how people are trying to get him out, how they're getting him to expand (his strike zone). He's trying to limit the balls that he's chasing out of the zone, which I think he's doing better at. It's something he's going to have to continue to work on."