Chicago's starting rotation looks improved thus far, helping the Cubs to their first series win to start a season in four years. But the true test of improvement may be in the coming weeks with a challenging schedule on the horizon.
Thirteen of the Chicago's next 19 games are against playoff teams from last year, beginning with Friday night's series opener on the road against the high-powered Atlanta Braves .
The Cubs (2-1) saw starters Jeff Samardzija , Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood post a combined 0.95 ERA during their series at Pittsburgh. Though it's just three games, it's significantly better than the 4.52 collective ERA Chicago's starters posted last year, third-worst in the NL.
Chicago hopes new addition Scott Feldman can keep things going as he embarks on his first season in the NL. Feldman went 39-44 with a 4.81 ERA over eight years with Texas before signing a one-year deal with the Cubs this past offseason.
"I'm kind of anxious," Feldman told the team's official website. "Sitting here, watching three games, I want to get that first start under my belt and get off to a good start."
He will start against a Braves lineup that in its first two games looked the part of its offseason acclaim as one baseball's most potent. Atlanta (2-1) plated 16 runs and had 19 hits - including six home runs - before being shut down to the tune of only two singles by Philadelphia's Cliff Lee in a 2-0 loss Thursday.
After homering in each of his first two games, Justin Upton provided one of those singles. B.J. Upton is still hitless with his new team, going 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts.
"They got an early lead and (Lee) went out there, settled in and did what good pitchers do," Jason Heyward told the team's official website.
Left-hander Mike Minor will get the nod for Atlanta, looking to carry the momentum over from a strong finish to last year. Minor was 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break, though he struggled this spring, amassing a 2-1 record and 6.26 ERA in six starts.
"I feel like I've grown up a lot from last year," Minor told the team's official website. "I have a lot of confidence and I feel good going into the season."
Though Chicago's starting staff would appear to be improved, there is still unrest at the back of the bullpen. Thursday's 3-2 win over the Pirates came despite a shaky performance from Carlos Marmol in the ninth. Marmol allowed both of Pittsburgh's runs before escaping with a game-inning double play. He also gave up a run, a hit and a walk while only working through a third of an inning in Monday's 3-1 win.
But manager Dale Sveum said Marmol will remain the team's closer, at least for now.
"For the most part we know things like that can get interesting with him," Sveum said. "But he got out of it again."
Feldman fared well in his only previous start against Atlanta, limiting the Braves to two runs and five hits over seven innings on June 19, 2008.
Minor has earned the win in each of his four career starts against the Cubs while striking out 30 in 23 innings.
Chicago's Nate Schierholtz , who hit a big two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning Thursday, is 3 for 6 lifetime against Minor.
|March 31, 2013||Ian Stewart||15-Day DL||Strained left quad|
|March 31, 2013||Matt Garza||15-Day DL||Strained left lat|
|March 31, 2013||Scott Baker||60-Day DL||Strained right elbow|
|March 27, 2013||Arodys Vizcaino||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Darwin Barney||15-Day DL||Left knee laceration|
|March 03, 2013||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Strained left lat|
|March 27, 2013||Jonny Venters||15-Day DL||Sprained left elbow|
|March 22, 2013||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Brian McCann||15-Day DL||Recovery from right shoulder surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Paul Janish||15-Day DL||Recovery from left shoulder surgery|
ATLANTA (AP) -- Mike Minor had a 6.26 ERA during spring training. But in his first regular-season start, he looked just like the dominant pitcher who ended 2012.
"With spring training not going as well, I still had that confidence," Minor said. "I guess that was a big part of it tonight."
Minor pitched into the eighth inning and Justin Upton hit his third homer in four games to help the Atlanta Braves beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Friday night.
Juan Francisco had a two-run single and Minor (1-0) won his first start of the season, allowing one run and five hits in 7 1-3 innings. He walked none and struck out seven.
Eric O'Flaherty got two outs in the eighth and Craig Kimbrel threw eight pitches in a perfect ninth for his second save.
Making his Cubs debut, Scott Feldman (0-1) threw two wild pitches, hit a batter and had a fielding error in the fourth when he missed the bag in an attempt to cover first base.
Feldman gave up four runs, five hits and four walks in 4 2-3 innings. He struck out one.
Upton's shot gave the Braves a 1-0 lead in the first. His sacrifice fly in the third drove in Andrelton Simmons to make it 2-0.
"It's even fun to see him hit in the cage," Simmons said. "You just watch and try to pick up stuff from him. He's really talented, and he has a nice swing. Everything is nice and smooth. He's going to do this all year."
Feldman could only blame himself for the second run. He issued a leadoff walk to Simmons, who stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
"I had a little trouble with my command tonight," Feldman said, "and they got into some deep counts and made me throw a lot of pitches."
Minor's one costly mistake came when Scott Hairston led off the fifth with a homer, his first, to make it 2-1.
Since the beginning of September last year, Minor is 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA in six starts. He also improved to 5-0 in five career starts against the Cubs.
The first month of the season had been a problem for Minor, drafted seventh overall in 2009. The left-hander began Friday with a 2-3 record and 5.35 career ERA in six April starts.
Minor rediscovered his command in the second half last year, however, and his 2.10 ERA since the All-Star break trails only teammate Kris Medlen and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best in the majors.
"I'm not going to say I'm going to have a game like this every time," Minor said. "But I had the confidence coming into the season that I was going to attack the hitters like I did last year and throw more breaking balls."
Francisco used an inside-out swing with one out in the fifth to drive the ball into left field for a two-run single that made it 4-1.
That hit chased Feldman, who threw balls on 49 of his 102 pitches. Michael Bowden ended the inning on rookie Evan Gattis ' groundout.
Bowden faced the minimum over the next 2 1-3 innings. Hector Rondon faced four batters in the eighth.
Feldman, who spent his first eight seasons with Texas, is 0-6 with a 6.85 ERA over his last nine starts.
NOTES: New center fielder B.J. Upton reached base for the first time with the Braves when Feldman hit him with a pitch in the fifth. B.J. Upton, who is 0 for 14 with nine strikeouts this season, advanced to second on his first steal for Atlanta and scored on Francisco's single. ... Gattis went 3 for 4 and was the only player on either team with more than one hit. ... Cubs SS Starlin Castro appeared in his 200th consecutive game, the NL's longest active streak. ... Before the game, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Braves GM Frank Wren came to his office and asked that he keep Chicago players off the field while Atlanta was still taking batting practice. Some of the Cubs' relievers were loosening up in left field with a few minutes left in the Braves' allotted practice time. Sveum said he quickly obliged. "Realistically, two teams can't be on the field at the same time, but obviously we all know at the end of (batting practice) that everybody always goes and throws and pretty much everybody's work is done," Sveum said. "The BP times got all goofed up, that's part of it. Why all that happened, anyway."