(SportsNetwork.com) - The St. Louis Cardinals were two games out of first place when catcher Yadier Molina suffered a thumb injury on July 9 that was expected to sideline him for as long as 12 weeks.
The Cardinals have been able to keep pace in the division despite missing their All-Star backstop and may have Molina back in the lineup on Friday night in the opener of a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs.
Molina was hitting .287 with seven homers and 30 RBI in 83 games before suffering a torn right thumb ligament. He underwent surgery exactly seven weeks ago, but is expected to return early after a quick rehab assignment that began on Wednesday.
Having missed 40 games due to injury, Molina could be exactly what St. Louis needs to overtake the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. The Cards currently trail the Brewers by 1 1/2 games.
"I think he can have a huge impact, and I think anybody in baseball would want to have him on their club in any capacity," manager Mike Matheny told St. Louis' website. "We want to have him right, too, so we have to see how he looks when he gets back. The leadership he brings, everything, the package, is important."
The Cardinals have lost four of their past six and have plated just seven runs over their last four games.
Should Molina be behind the plate tonight, he'll look to help get right-hander Shelby Miller on track.
Miller is 0-1 over his last four starts and has posted a 6.35 earned run average in his last three outings. He faced Philadelphia on Saturday and was charged with three runs over six innings of a no-decision.
The 23-year-old is 8-9 with a 4.26 ERA on the year and 1-0 lifetime against the Cubs with a 1.59 ERA in three meetings (2 starts).
Miller and the Cardinals will get their first look at Cubs prospect Jorge Solar, who has quickly had an impact since getting called up.
Solar homered and drove in two runs in his debut on Wednesday in a loss to Cincinnati that snapped a four-game win streak, then went 2-for-4 with an RBI in Thursday's 7-2 setback to the Reds.
Anthony Rizzo did not start for a second consecutive game due to tightness in his back, but hopes to be in the lineup tonight for the Cubs.
Chicago will start 24-year-old Kyle Hendricks this evening and he is 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in eight starts. That lone setback did come versus the Cardinals on July 27 in Hendricks' third career outing, but he yielded only one run in 6 1/3 innings.
Hendricks won four straight starts following that loss, but was unable to pick up a victory on Saturday versus Baltimore as a rain delay ended the righty's outing after two innings of two-run ball.
The Cardinals have won seven of 12 versus the Cubs this season. The clubs are scheduled to play a doubleheader on Saturday to make up a May 14 postponement.