Series Preview: Cubs at Diamondbacks

The Cubs begin the 2005 season in Arizona against a Diamondbacks lineup that is completely overhauled from Opening Day 2004.

The Diamondbacks, now led by ousted Seattle manager Bob Melvin, lost 111 games a season ago and made an influx of offseason moves designed to lift the team out of the NL West cellar. For starters, the club traded ace Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez, its Opening Day starter this year. The team's two projected table-setters at the top of the lineup, second baseman Craig Counsell and shortstop Royce Clayton, were signed as free agents, as were marquee third baseman Troy Glaus and center fielder Jose Cruz Jr.

Right fielder Shawn Green was acquired in a trade with the Dodgers on Jan. 11, and Shea Hillenbrand was dealt to Toronto one day later, thus allowing the team to move Chad Tracy to first base and filling the void left by departing free agent Richie Sexson.

In terms of pitching, gone are starters Johnson, Casey Fossum and Steve Sparks. The Diamondbacks brought in free agents Russ Ortiz from Atlanta and Shawn Estes from Colorado, who finished second and third in the majors in walks last year, respectively. Brandon Webb, the major league leader in walks, will be the team's third starter and LHP Brad Halsey, acquired in the Johnson-Vazquez trade, edged out Michael Gosling for the fifth starters spot.

For the second straight year, the Cubs will open the season with Mark Prior on the disabled list. The good news is both Prior and Kerry Wood, who was sidelined this spring with bursitis in his right shoulder, appear close to returning. Wood hopes to start the Cubs' home opener against Milwaukee Friday, and Prior could be activated from the DL as early as April 12.

With Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou gone from the team, the Cubs re-signed Todd Hollandsworth and brought in free agent Jeromy Burnitz in hopes of replacing some of the run production lost between the two sluggers. The team also re-signed free agents Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker, and acquired 2B/OF Jerry Hairston from Baltimore in the trade that sent Sosa to Baltimore.

Joe Borowski, the Cubs' projected closer entering 2005, suffered a right wrist fracture and likely won't return until mid-May. The plan is to go with LaTroy Hawkins at closer for the time being in hopes that the right-hander recovers from nine blown saves a year ago.

Here are the pitching match-ups for the series.

Game 1: Monday, 4:10 p.m. (CDT)
Carlos Zambrano vs. Javier Vazquez

(Zambrano lifetime vs. Diamondbacks: 1-2, 4.66 ERA, 3 GS.)
(Vazquez lifetime vs. Cubs: 3-2, 4.09 ERA, 9 GS.)

The injuries to Wood and Prior have given Carlos Zambrano his first career Opening Day start. Zambrano led all Cub starters a year ago with 16 victories and a 2.75 ERA while making his first All-Star appearance. He cruised through Spring Training this year and was the Cubs' most dominant starter, posting a 1.35 ERA in five starts that spanned 20 innings.

Javier Vazquez returns to the National League after an up and down season with the Yankees a year ago. The right-hander won 14 games and made 32 starts with New York, but posted his worst ERA (4.91) since 1999. Like all of Arizona's front-end starters, Vazquez struggled in Cactus League play this spring, posting a 6.66 ERA in five starts, and surrendering four home runs (the most by any Diamondbacks starter).

Game 2: Tuesday, 8:40 p.m.
Greg Maddux vs. Russ Ortiz

(Maddux lifetime vs. Diamondbacks: 1-6, 4.20 ERA, 11 GS)
(Ortiz liftime vs. Cubs: 2-4, 5.36 ERA, 8 GS)

Greg Maddux won 16 games for the third consecutive season in his first year back with the Cubs in 2004. While he allowed more home runs (35) than ever before in his career, the veteran still sported a respectable 3.56 ERA at Wrigley Field. A traditional slow starter out of the gate, Maddux hopes to lower his plus-five ERA in the month of April the past two seasons. He surrendered 11 runs in four starts spanning 17 innings this spring.

Meanwhile, Russ Ortiz had arguably the worst spring of any Arizona starter, going 2-2 with a 7.94 ERA in six starts. The 30-year-old right-hander won 15 games for Atlanta a season ago but walked over 100 batters for the second straight year. This spring, walks continued to plague Ortiz, who walked 10 and fanned only seven.

Game 3, Wednesday, 9:10 p.m.
Ryan Dempster vs. Brandon Webb

(Dempster lifetime vs. Diamondbacks: 1-3, 5.59 ERA, 8 GS)
(Webb lifetime vs. Cubs: 1-0, 1.10 ERA, 3 GS)

Ryan Dempster will be making his first major league start in a regular season game since July 2003 when he pitches the series' finale. Dempster was shaky this spring, going winless in four starts and posting an ERA of 9.68. He spent last season in the bullpen where he went 1-1 with a 3.92 ERA in 23 appearances, walking 13 and striking out 18.

Right-hander Brandon Webb couldn't avoid the sophomore jinx in his second season in the majors a year ago. Webb walked over 50 more batters in seven fewer starts than his rookie 2003 season, and totaled 16 losses in the process.

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