By Bruce Levine —

CHICAGO (CBS) — A rivalry like few others continues will take center stage over the next two weeks.

The fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals are among the best in all of sports, and there will be plenty to debate as the regular season winds down. The teams start a three-game series Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs leading the Cardinals and Brewers by three games in the National League Central.

Bragging rights long tilted toward St. Louis with the Cardinals’ storied history — until that 2015 NLDS, when the Cubs upended the Cardinals in four games. Of course, Chicago then blitzed the NL in 2016 en route to 103 wins and a championship.

What looms now is meaningful baseball, with each pitch and at-bat and inning for the rest of the season. Starting Friday, the Cubs and Cardinals will play each other seven times in the next 14 days. Hanging in the balance is a postseason berth via the division title. Beyond that, the Cardinals and Brewers — and Cubs, should they fall back — are still in the race for the second wild-card slot. St. Louis (77-69) and Milwaukee (77-69) are just two games behind Colorado (80-67) in the loss column for the second wild-card berth.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon embraces the playoff push, even if fans and others are sweating it out. It’s the most exciting portion of the regular season.

“People shouldn’t take Clark Street,” Maddon said in a reference to the three games this weekend being intense. “It is a good thing. I love it. It is good for the city. It is good for baseball. It is good for your growth moments as a baseball person in the National League. I enjoy this a lot. The games will be exciting. We will take them one at a time. We just want to get a one-game winning streak started.”

The Cubs haven’t won a game against a team over .500 in the standings since Aug. 13, when they won a road game against the Diamondbacks. Since then, the Brewers were the only above-.500 team the Cubs played, and they were swept. So Maddon is curious to see how his club responds against a good foe in the Cardinals.

“I totally agree with the idea we have to be able to beat better pitching,” Maddon said. “You must pitch better. We got out-pitched in the Brewers series. You must be able to score runs without homers. We are not going to score 15 runs. We need to execute good at-bats.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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