When the Cubs play Pittsburgh on Friday night at PNC Park, it opens a 19-game stretch in which they face National League Central Division foes.
They face the Pirates six times, Cincinnati five times, Houston three times, Milwaukee three times and St. Louis twice.
The Cubs hope to get a seven-game road trip against the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals off on the right foot when they send Carlos Zambrano to the mound.
Zambrano, whom some feel could be a Cy Young Award candidate, gave up one hit in 7 1-3 scoreless innings against Milwaukee last Saturday.
The Cubs head into the Pittsburgh series after dropping two out of three games to San Diego. At this point in the season, they hoped to be better than 4-5, but with Mark Prior (six scoreless innings against San Diego on Wednesday after missing most of spring training with an inflamed right elbow) back in the rotation, things could pick up.
"We're not happy with the results, but we're not panicking," Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood said. "We have good pitching, a good offense and a good defense. When we put it all together, we'll win some games."
INF-OF Jerry Hairston Jr., who has not been happy with the lack of playing time, figured to get some starts because of the knee injury to 2B Todd Walker. He did not start Monday against San Diego and was not originally in Tuesday's lineup against the Padres. But 3B Aramis Ramirez was scratched from the lineup and Neifi Perez moved from second to third, and Hairston was slated to start at second and lead off before the game was postponed because of rain.
CF Corey Patterson, who has batted first and second in the lineup, was scheduled to bat third in Tuesday's lineup against San Diego before it was postponed. Patterson and Jeromy Burnitz lead the Cubs in strikeouts with nine apiece.
3B Aramis Ramirez was scratched from Tuesday's lineup because of rainy conditions, but the game was eventually rained out. Manager Dusty Baker was concerned Ramirez could aggravate a slight groin injury. Ramirez said he would be able to play in both games of Wednesday's makeup doubleheader if he is needed.
RHP Todd Wellemeyer, who posted a 7.71 ERA in three relief appearances, was sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday to make room for Mark Prior on the roster. Wellemeyer will work as a starter in the minors and is scheduled to make his first appearance on Friday.
2B Todd Walker could be out four to six weeks with a moderate to severe medial collateral ligament sprain of his left knee, but he is confident he can return sooner. Walker collided with Carlos Lee on the basepath Sunday. Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston Jr. will likely get a bulk of the playing time in Walker's absence.
INF Mike Fontenot, who hit .308 in four games with Triple-A Iowa, replaced injured 2B Todd Walker on the roster on Monday. Fontenot doesn't figure to get much playing time because Jerry Hairston Jr. and Neifi Perez are in the mix to replace Walker.
RHP Ryan Dempster pitched past the fourth inning for the first time this year when he gave up one unearned run in Monday's 1-0 loss to San Diego. Dempster had not gone five innings in six Cactus League appearances and lasted just 3 2/3 innings against Arizona last Wednesday. Dempster still had troubles with control, walking three and hitting another batter. But he struck out seven for the second straight appearance.
BY THE NUMBERS: 38-12 -- The Cubs' combined margin of victory in three Opening Day victories against the New York Mets, Cincinnati and Arizona in the Dusty Baker era.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's got the right manager, he's got the right ballpark, he's got the right city and he's got the right team." -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry on locking up third baseman Aramis Ramirez for four years.
1. RHP Carlos Zambrano
2. RHP Greg Maddux
3. RHP Ryan Dempster
4. RHP Kerry Wood
5. RHP Mark Prior
RHP LaTroy Hawkins (closer)
RHP Chad Fox
LHP Mike Remlinger
LHP Glendon Rusch
RHP Jon Leicester
RHP Michael Weurtz
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
LHP Cliff Bartosh
1. CF Corey Patterson
2. 2B Neifi Perez/Jerry Hairston Jr.
3. SS Nomar Garciaparra
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
5. RF Jeromy Burnitz
6. 1B Derrek Lee
7. LF Todd Hollandsworth
8. C Michael Barrett
C Henry Blanco
INF/OF Jose Macias
OF Jason Dubois
--2B Todd Walker went on the DL because of a sprained knee ligament.
--RHP Joe Borowski suffered a fractured right wrist on March 21 and was projected to be out at least until May.
--RHP Mark Prior is suffering from inflammation of his right elbow and missed a chunk of the exhibition season, but the Cubs hope he can be ready for an April 12 start against San Diego.
--RHP Scott Williamson (Tommy John surgery in 2004) will not open the season with the club, but the Cubs think there is a chance he could be on the hill in August or September.