Cubdom Visits the New Busch Stadium

A weekend series preview.

The Chicago Cubs make their first visit to the new Busch Stadium Friday night. The schedule makers wised up this season. All 19 games between the Cubs and their division-rival St. Louis Cardinals are played on the weekend. With just 300 miles separating these two cities, the weekend scheduling makes it far easier for the bold, blue-clad Cubbie fans to invade St. Louis, as does it allow for the red-clad Cardinal Nation to saunter into Wrigley Field.


Cubdom got an early taste of the Cardinal rivalry when Dusty Baker's crew hosted Tony La Russa's club for Opening Day at the shrine located at 1060 West Addison. And what a sweet taste it was! The Cubs not only won on Opening Day behind the dominating arm of the Professor Greg Maddux, but they swept the three-game series, including two dramatic come-from-behind victories.


As you can imagine, the Cardinal faithful had anything but a sweet taste in their mouths after that series. Here we are just two weeks later. The Cardinals have the opportunity to introduce the Cubs to their new home and will be looking to return the favor, changing that sweet taste in the Cub fans' mouths to sour.


Well, the baseball gods have struck Cubdom before the Cardinals could. Derrek Lee injured his wrist Wednesday night when Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal collided with the 2005 National League batting champion. X-rays confirmed suspicions, and news broke Thursday evening that Lee has two broken bones in his wrist. The team captain was the Cubs' biggest offensive and defensive weapons, and now he'll be sidelined for at least two months. 


Just who do the Cubs get to play for their first game after hearing the bad news? Yes, it's the Cardinals. With talk of the Billy Goat Curse hot once again, those Cardinal fans with no fear for bad karma will be strutting around Busch Stadium all weekend with their "Cursed" t-shirts proudly on display.


But this might be a blessing in disguise for the Cubs. They clearly need to get over the loss of their superstar and begin moving on quickly. There is no better team to do that against than the Cardinals. Why? It doesn't matter who is on either team's roster, when these two clubs hook up, it's a fight to the finish. So if fans think the Cubs are going to sulk and arrive at Busch Stadium with their tails between their legs, think again.


Despite not being able to enjoy great baseball play by Derrek Lee, fans will also have to accept the fact that they won't get to see either Carlos Zambrano or Chris Carpenter in this weekend's series.


So just who will be pitching?  Here are the weekend's probable matchups:


Friday: Jerome Williams (0-1, 2.45) vs. Mark Mulder (1-0, 4.05)

Williams has a career 3-2 record against the Cardinals with a 2.92 ERA. Mark Mulder, who is one of those guys who can be lights out or make you scratch your head, will be looking to rebound from a tough game Sunday where he lasted just 5.0 innings and gave up four runs on 10 hits.


Saturday: Glendon Rusch (1-2, 6.60) vs. Sidney Ponson (1-0, 3.97)

The soft-tossing lefty Glendon Rusch bounced back from two shell-shocked starts against the Reds to earn his first victory in a solid performance against the Pirates last week. Rusch mystified the Cardinals last season and will be looking to continue that trend. Sidney Ponson has been a solid number five man so far for the Cards and will be getting his second look at the Cubbies – he got a no-decision after pitching 5.0 innings of three-run ball the first time around.


Sunday: Greg Maddux (3-0, 1.33) vs. Jason Marquis (3-0, 2.79)

The most intriguing matchup of the weekend. Both pitchers are off to magical starts to the season. Maddux already has one win against the Cardinals this year, and if he has that two-seam fastball dancing like a Wiffle ball again, it could be trouble for the Cardinal hitters. Jason Marquis has pitched well against the Cubs over the course of his career posting a 3.32 ERA, but he's managed just a 1-3 record in six starts.


As for the bats…

Look for Dusty Baker to turn to ex-Cardinal John Mabry and Todd Walker to fill in for Lee at first base. Walker has an extremely hot stick with a .409 average entering the series. But if the Cubs are going to battle with the Cards this weekend, they're going to need Juan Pierre to set the table and Aramis Ramirez and Michael Barrett to step up in Lee's absence. For the Cards, keep an eye on Albert Pujols (as if you weren't going to). The Cubs kept him to just one hit and two RBI in that series two weeks ago, and Pujols is about as hot as a hitter can be right now.  And watch out for Jim Edmonds if the Cardinal outfielder remains healthy enough to play in Sunday's game. The infamous Wrigley wind helped keep at least two balls in the park he hit off Greg Maddux two weeks ago.


When these two clubs get together, though, it's almost always a dog fight. So that means we all need to keep an eye out for that pinch-hitter or arm out of the bullpen that's going to make the difference, be it good or bad.  That brings us to the current state of the closers: Jason Isringhausen has been shaky and was already burned by the Cubs once this year. As for Ryan Dempster, well, he's riding that high of a new club record with 23 consecutive saves. You know the Cardinals would just love to break that streak if they find themselves in the situation to do so.


It's supposed to be a gorgeous weekend for baseball in St. Louis. Will the Cards return the favor and sweep the Derrek-Lee-less Cubs? Or will the Cubs pony-up and shock the Cardinal faithful again? Odds will tell you that the final result will be something in the middle. Here's to a weekend of great, clean baseball, good-hearted banter in the crowd, and the best rivalry in baseball.


Pete Khazen can be reached via email at

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