Chicago (0-0) at Arizona (0-0)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Phoenix, AZ
Temp: 89° F
  • Game info: 5:10 pm EDT Mon Apr 4, 2005
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The Chicago Cubs had hoped to have Mark Prior and Kerry Wood start the season on time. That’s not going to happen.

With their two best pitchers still recovering from injuries, the Cubs will turn to Carlos Zambrano to open the season as they begin a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Prior is on the disabled list to start a season for the second straight year thanks to a tender elbow. Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he wanted to give the right-hander some extra time to build up his endurance.

Wood was scheduled to start opening day but was scratched with a sore shoulder and a stiff back. He is now slated for the home opener on Friday.

Prior and Wood, who were All-Stars in 2003, combined for just 14 wins last year due to injuries.

“That was our strength in the first place actually. Going into last season more people talked about our pitching more than anything else,” said Baker, who is coming off guiding the Cubs to their first consecutive winning seasons in 30 years.

“Prior is going to win more than six and Wood is going to win more than eight.”

Known for his emotional antics and live arm, Zambrano tied future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux for the team lead with 16 wins last year.

“For me, mentally I’ll prepare like a normal game, like I was the No. 4 starter,” said Zambrano, who is coming off his first All-Star game appearance. “I just wanted to be focused for the game and not worry about anything else, not think about it being opening day.”

Zambrano was fourth in the NL with a 2.75 ERA in 2004 and ranked among the league leaders in strikeouts with 188 and batting average against (.225).

The Cubs were poised to make a run at the postseason last year as they were leading the NL wild-card race with less than two weeks to play, but they dropped seven of their final nine games. Despite trading Sammy Sosa to Baltimore and allowing Moises Alou to leave via free agency, the Cubs should be able to generate enough offense for their pitching staff.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez will be expected to build on his stellar performance in 2004, while the Cubs are banking on added production from a healthy Nomar Garciaparra and newcomer Jeromy Burnitz.

“I like our attitude. I like our togetherness. I like our skill level, the combination of speed and power,” Baker said.

“We’ve got to get our starting pitching together. We have guys who have been there before in our bullpen. I just like the fact that guys are confident we can play.”

For the first time since their 1998 expansion season, someone other than Randy Johnson will start the opener for the Diamondbacks. Javier Vazquez, who came over in the trade that sent Johnson to the New York Yankees, will be looking to redeem himself following a rough second half last year.

The Diamondbacks, under new manager Bob Melvin, will be introducing a team that fans will hardly recognize following their dismal 111-loss season a year ago.

Only left-fielder Luis Gonzalez remains from last year’s opening day lineup. He will be joined by third baseman Troy Glaus and right fielder Shawn Green to form a potent 3-4-5 spot in the batting order.

“We’re not going to bang our chest and say we should be considered the favorite for the division title,” Melvin said. “But we like the team we have, and we think the more we play together, as the course of the season goes along, barring injuries, we feel like we’re a team that can get better.”

2004 STANDINGS: Cubs - 3rd place, 16 GB, NL Central. Diamondbacks - 5th place, 42 GB, NL West.

CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Zambrano (16-8, 2.75 ERA). The 6-foot-5 Venezuelan is 1-2 with a 4.66 ERA in three career starts against the Diamondbacks.

DIAMONDBACKS PROBABLE STARTER: Vazquez (14-10, 4.91 ERA). The 28-year-old righty went 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA in the first half of 2004 and made the AL All-Star team, but collapsed in the second half, going 4-5 with a 6.92 ERA. Vazquez, who will be making his third career opening day start, is 3-2 with a 4.09 ERA in nine starts against the Cubs.

2004 OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cubs - Ramirez, .318 avg. and 99 runs; Burnitz, 37 HRs and 110 RBIs (with Colorado); Corey Patterson, 32 SBs. Diamondbacks - Chad Tracy, .285 avg.; Green, 28 HRs and 86 RBIs (with Los Angeles Dodgers); Royce Clayton, 95 runs (with Colorado); Craig Counsell, 17 SBs (with Milwaukee).

2004 SEASON SERIES: Diamondbacks, 4-2.

STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - RHP Zambrano was 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in 15 road starts last season. … RHP Prior is scheduled to start for Triple-A Iowa in its season opener at Albuquerque on Thursday. If all goes well, he will be activated on April 12 to start against San Diego. … SS Garciaparra hit .433 this spring with six home runs and 17 RBIs. Diamondbacks - RHP Brandon Lyon posted a 0.69 ERA in 11 exhibition appearances. He had two saves, 12 strikeouts and no walks in 13 innings to win the closer job. … C Chris Snyder, recovering from a dislocated left thumb, worked out in the batting cage Friday and was expected to catch bullpen sessions Saturday. … 3B Glaus appears fully recovered from shoulder surgery, hitting .424 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs this spring.

2004 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cubs - 44-36 on the road; Diamondbacks - 29-52 at home.

INJURIES: Cubs - RHP Joe Borowski (arm), 15-day DL; RHP Prior (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Williamson (elbow), 60-day DL. Diamondbacks - INF Jerry Gil (knee), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Valverde (biceps), 15-day DL.

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Starting Pitchers

C. Zambrano Phi vs. J. Vazquez Mia
14-6 Record 11-15
3.26 ERA 4.42
202 K 192
86 BB 46
1.15 WHIP 1.25