Despite the crowded landscape at the top of the National League Central, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to focus on themselves entering Saturday’s middle contest of a three-game home series against the Atlanta Braves. The Cardinals pounced on the Braves in the early innings in Friday’s series opener and held on for an 8-5 victory to remain one game behind the Central-leading Chicago Cubs.

St. Louis has won seven games in a row to surge toward the top of the division standings, powered by two hits and two RBIs from right fielder Randal Grichuk as well as two hits and three RBIs from shortstop Paul DeJong in the series opener. St. Louis reached the Atlanta bullpen for two runs in 5 1/3 innings after jumping all over starter Mike Foltynewicz, extending its streak of scoring eight or more runs in victories to six in a row (the longest streak in the majors since the Braves did it in 2006). Atlanta rookie second baseman Ozzie Albies finished 2-for-4, blasting a three-run homer in the sixth inning. The Braves (51-62) have lost 17 of their past 23 games and are a season-worst 11 games below .500.

TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, FSN South (Atlanta), FSN Midwest (St. Louis)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Braves RH Lucas Sims (0-2, 5.25 ERA) vs. Cardinals RH Carlos Martinez (8-9, 3.52)

Despite a rough first inning in his second major-league start Sunday – in which he gave up four runs – Sims settled down to throw scoreless ball across the next five innings in a loss to Miami. The 23-year-old has surrendered seven of the 12 hits allowed through two starts on two-strike counts. Sims, who has pitched six innings in each of his first two turns, will make the first road start of his career in this outing.

Martinez earned his second All-Star berth in the past three years with a stellar first half but has struggled recently while posting a 5.14 ERA in his last seven starts. The 25-year-old won at Kansas City in his last start Monday, giving up two runs on solo homers among the seven hits he allowed over eight otherwise impressive innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. Martinez, who is 5-3 with a 3.27 ERA in 11 home outings, is 2-1 in seven career appearances (three starts) against Atlanta with a 3.32 ERA.

WALK-OFFS

1. The Cardinals have won all four meetings this season by at least two runs, outscoring the Braves 29-12.

2. One game after his 13-game hitting streak ended, Braves CF Ender Inciarte finished 2-for-3 with a walk.

3. The Cardinals set a franchise mark for most consecutive victories when scoring eight or more runs Friday, surpassing the old record set from Sept. 18-23, 1925.

PREDICTION: Cardinals 5, Braves 2