Series Preview: Brewers (2-0) at Cubs (1-2)

<B>CHICAGO</B> - It's no surprise that a substantial buzz will engulf the Friendly Confines throughout the entire weekend as the Cubs return home for the first time in 2005.<p> But add in the fact that the team will be sending a healthy Kerry Wood to the mound for his first start of the season (and that the opposition will be the upstart and revamped Milwaukee Brewers), and the home opener could be a memorable one.

The Cubs enter the series fresh off back-to-back losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks after taking the series opener in grand fashion. This Cubs team is a much different ballclub than fans and the Milwaukee Brewers have become accustomed to seeing over previous seasons. Gone are former fan favorites Sammy Sosa, traded to the Orioles in the offseason, and Moises Alou, who packed his bags for the west coast as the newest member of the San Francisco Giants in December.

Replacing Sosa is Jeromy Burnitz, who has shown some flare in his first three games as a Cub. In 14 at-bats in the opening series against the Diamondbacks, Burnitz managed five hits for a .357 average. Todd Hollandsworth is looking to establish himself as a regular on the 2005 team despite playing in only 57 games for the Cubs last season due to injury. The club's new left fielder finished last year hitting .318 and was 4-for-12 with a home run and three RBI in the opening series.

Ever since the Cubs tallied an impressive 16 runs and 23 hits on Monday, the bats have gone silent at opportune times. With the Brewers heading into town fresh off a pair of impressive, high-scoring victories in Pittsburgh (in which they combined for 19 runs on 22 hits), the Cubs' pitching staff will have to bear down on a new and improved Milwaukee lineup.

The Cubs are all too familiar with Carlos Lee, a notorious Cub-killer who played six years on the South Side. Lee has shown steady improvement in his young career and boasted a .305 average with 31 home runs and 99 RBI last year for the White Sox. He displayed his dangerous power threat in the Brewers' 10-2 victory on Wednesday at PNC Park, going 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBI.

Nonetheless, the story of this weekend's series will be the Cubs' pitching. They will send their three best available pitchers to the mound in Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux. (Mark Prior is currently on the 15-day DL with right elbow inflammation but could be activated soon.)

Here is a look at this weekend's probable pitching match-ups:

Friday, 1:20 p.m. (CDT)
Kerry Wood (0-0) vs. Chris Capuano (0-0)
TV: WGN

If experience has anything to do with the outcome of this match-up, the Cubs should have little to worry about. Capuano is in only his second year in the big leagues and has started just 22 games in his Major League career. The left-hander had 17 starts for the Brewers last year and compiled a 6-8 record with a 4.99 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .270 against him.

The only thing Capuano might hold over Wood lies in the area of health. Wood was supposed to start on Opening Day, but has been bothered by bursitis in his right shoulder this spring and spent a good portion of his time throwing in simulated games. He is 6-6 lifetime against the Brewers with a 2.97 ERA and 143 strikeouts (the second most versus any team he has faced).

Saturday, 1:20 p.m.
Carlos Zambrano (0-0) vs. Ben Sheets (1-0)
TV: CSN

On paper, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that this is the premiere pitching match-up of the series. Sheets is the Brewers' ace and has recorded double-digit victories in each of his four seasons with the club. Zambrano was forced into an early exit after 4 2/3 innings on Monday, allowing three runs on seven hits and walking four batters. He was ejected by home plate umpire Dale Scott for arguing balls and strikes while walking off the field. Meanwhile, Sheets was stellar in the role of Opening Day starter for the Brewers. He lasted seven strong innings, allowed two runs, struck out six, and did not walk a batter.

Sunday, 1:20 p.m.
Greg Maddux (0-1) vs. Victor Santos (0-0)
TV: WGN

Maddux was haunted by the long ball in his first outing of the season, as Luis Gonzalez continued to be a pain in the future Hall of Famer's neck with his eighth and ninth career home runs off Maddux, respectively. Maddux lasted five innings while giving up five runs.

Sunday will be Santos's first outing of the season. He picked up 11 victories for the Brewers last year, but posted a 4.97 ERA while surrendering 18 home runs.

Cary Dohman can be reached for comment at ccdohman@wisc.edu.


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