What to watch: Cubs at Braves

What to watch: Cubs at Braves
April 5, 2013, 10:15 am
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Tony Andracki

First pitch: 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Cubs Postgame Live with hosts David Kaplan and Todd Hollandsworth follows the game. (Check the Channel Finder to find CSN+ in your area)

On the mound: Scott Feldman vs. Mike Minor

This will be Feldman's first start in a Cubs uniform. The front office made acquiring pitching depth the main directive of the offseason, and Feldman was one of the four new starting pitching options added to the Cubs' stable that already included Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Travis Wood.

When the team reported for spring training, Edwin Jackson was the only newcomer guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Feldman, 30, has spent parts of the last three seasons in the Rangers' bullpen and may have wound up in relief when the Cubs broke camp. But an injury to Garza and a setback in Scott Baker's recovery from Tommy John surgery opened up two spots in the rotation and Feldman was assured a spot.

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The veteran righty has made 101 starts over the last five seasons and won 17 games in 2009. In 29 appearances (21 starts) for Texas last season, Feldman had a 6-11 record, a 5.09 ERA 1.38 WHIP and career highs with 7 K/9 and 3.0 K/BB.

Minor is a former first-round pick (seventh overall in the 2009 Draft) that is still searching for his breakout. The tall lefty made 23 starts with the Braves from 2010-11, shuttling back and forth between Atlanta and the minors. He finally got a season-long opportunity last season, going 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 30 starts.

Today's storyline: The Cubs' pitching depth in 2013 vs. 2012

Theo Epstein has preached the need for starting pitching depth since he took over for the Cubs, and last season proved that with injuries and trades decimating the rotation. Guys like Jason Berken, Justin Germano, Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley all got an opportunity to eat up innings last year, and all four struggled. Feldman and Carlos Villanueva are established veterans that should prove to be a clear step above the Cubs' options last season.

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1. Dave Sappelt CF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano LF
5. Scott Hairston RF
6. Welington Castillo C
7. Brent Lillibridge 3B
8. Alberto Gonzalez 2B
9. Scott Feldman P

1. Andrelton Simmons SS
2. Jason Heyward RF
3. Justin Upton RF
4. Freddie Freeman 1B
5. B.J. Upton CF
6. Dan Uggla 2B
7. Juan Francisco 3B
8. Evan Gattis C
9. Mike Minor P

What else to watch for

The Cubs' rotation already looks to be a notch above last season, as Samardzija, Jackson and Wood have allowed just two earned runs, six hits and four walks with 18 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched so far. Of course, the frigid temperatures in Pittsburgh certainly helped matters, as it wasn't exactly weather catered to hitters. The mercury struggled to climb above 45 degrees in Pennsylvania all week, but the forecast is much better in Atlanta this weekend with projections of 66, 70 and 73 degrees over the next three days.

The last word

This will be the first time the Cubs face the Braves without Chipper Jones either in the lineup or on the disabled list since he made his debut in 1993. The future Hall of Famer retired after last season with a career line of .303/.401/.529, 468 homers and a whopping 1,512 walks to just 1,409 strikeouts. It will be awfully weird not seeing old Larry in a Braves uniform, but at least his name is still in the news with his reaction to Mike Rice's firing at Rutgers.