The 121-year-old Cubs-Cardinals rivalry probably peaked 10 years ago, when Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa shouted obscenities at one another from their dugouts.

That was back when there was some real hatred between the teams, with beanball wars in vogue and Carlos Zambrano and Jim Edmonds antagonizing one another just for the heck of it.

But those days are long gone, as evidenced by Tuesday's pregame media briefing by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who insisted the 12-20 Cubs were a tough team to face.

"I know right now they're a force," Matheny said.

Perhaps Matheny was embellishing a bit, considering the Cubs entered the night ranked last in National League fielding, 11th in runs scored and had the league's second-worst record. Or maybe Matheny was on to something, and the early numbers are meaningless.

Nate Schierholtz's two-run home run off Lance Lynn gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the fourth, and they hung on for a 2-1 win.

Travis Wood (3-2) threw another gem, allowing one run on five hits over 62/3 innings, and Kevin Gregg notched his fifth save.

"He's the best starter in baseball pretty much," manager Dale Sveum said. "Yeah, he's got it. He's figured it out."

Wood was a little taken aback by Sveum's comment.

"That's a strong statement," he said. "But you know …"

Wood ended his thought, preferring to let his pitching speak for itself.

It's hard to imagine he's the same pitcher who began last season at Triple-A Iowa and endured an early eight-game losing streak. But the truth is Wood has been as effective as any Cubs starter in years, becoming the first since Mark Prior in 2003 to open a season with seven consecutive quality starts. The last lefty to do so was Johnny Schmitz in 1948.

"Right now it's feeling awesome," Wood said, adding his confidence is as high as ever. "You've got to stay humble, though."

The only run off Wood was a solo home run by Allen Craig leading off the second. Wood has allowed two or fewer runs in six of his seven starts, lowering his ERA to 2.33.