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Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates Preview, Friday 4/1, 1:20 CT: Opening Day!

Members of the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers stand for the National Anthem on Opening Day last year at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Members of the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers stand for the National Anthem on Opening Day last year at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

At last, we've made it! Even though the weather forecast is iffy, even though spring training games for the Cubs were shaky, you've got to be excited for Opening Day. Here's today's lineup:

Fukudome RF, Castro SS, Byrd CF, Ramirez 3B, Pena 1B, Soto C, Soriano LF, Barney 2B, Dempster P

I like this -- moving Geo up. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Soto hitting fifth against LHP this year.

Pirates lineup:

Tabata LF, Walker 2B, McCutchen CF, Overbay 1B, Alvarez 3B, Doumit C, Jones RF, Cedeno SS, Correia P

As I have done on occasion in the past, I exchanged five questions with our SB Nation Pirates blogger Charlie Wilmoth. My answers to his questions are in this Bucs Dugout post. Here are my questions and Charlie's responses:

Q. The Pirates were 10-5 against the Cubs last year, including five wins at Wrigley -- when they only won 17 all year on the road. How did they do this and can they do it again?

A. I don't know. It's strange. The Pirates even won three games against the Cubs in May with either Brian Burres or Charlie Morton on the hill, back when Morton was in the midst of a cataclysmic breakdown. I have no explanation for that.

Q. Of Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, who has the biggest upside and who will be the biggest star, and why?

A. I'll go with McCutchen. There's every possible indication that in the next few seasons, he'll make the leap from being a very good player to a big star. He has a broad base of hitting skills, he's very athletic, he never gets hurt, he's already a good hitter, and he's entering his third year in the league. That doesn't mean he'll actually do it, and he's good enough already that it might be hard for him to improve vastly in a single season, but his upside is enormous.

Alvarez has enough power to bring light to a small village, and he a great draft pedigree. But strikeouts are always on the verge of eating him alive, and he goes through stretches where he looks clueless and flails at breaking balls down and away. I think he did a nice job adjusting down the stretch last year, though, and he put up big numbers in September, so there's hope for a breakout this year. Walker had a solid rookie season last year while learning a new position on the fly, but I'd put him significantly behind McCutchen and Alvarez.

Q. Who's going to come out of nowhere to be an impact player for the Pirates this year?

As a Pirates fan, I enthusiastically embrace the premise of the question (that there will, in fact, be an out-of-nowhere impact player this year), but I'm not sure who it will be. James McDonald was brilliant after being acquired in the Octavio Dotel trade last summer, and his season might have looked even better if departed manager John Russell had done a better job removing him from games when he got into trouble. There's always hope for Charlie Morton, who has excellent stuff and has pitched well this Spring using a sinker that former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan had him stop throwing last season. Rudy Owens is another starting pitcher to watch - he'll start the season in Class AAA, but he has the polish to pitch pretty well as soon as he arrives in the bigs. In the bullpen, Chris Resop could emerge as one of the Pirates' better relievers.

Q. What can the Pirates do to return to contention? Are they on the right path?

A. A few years ago, when Dave Littlefield was running the Pirates into the ground, it seemed like all the fans complained that the deck was stacked against the Pirates financially - as if giving Dave Littlefield a $100 million payroll to work with would have been anything other than setting money on fire. Now the Pirates are actually run reasonably well, spending tons of money on amateur talent and avoiding complicated contracts at the big-league level, and it seems like many of the fans have swung in the opposite direction, complaining about the management and ownership at every possible opportunity.

Dave Littlefield aside, the deck is stacked against the Bucs. Some of their financial records were leaked last year, and what they revealed is that while the Pirates aren't losing money, they aren't making much of it, either. It's going to be really hard for them to even have an average major-league payroll for more than a year or two at a time. With some caveats, I would say that the Pirates are on the best path they can be on right now given their financial situation and the talent that exists in the organization. Will that be enough to make them a contender? Maybe. Maybe not.

Q. What's it like rooting for a team that's had as many bad years as the Pirates have in a row? Does it get depressing? Do you see any hope for the future?

A. I'll resist the temptation to note the irony of a Cubs fan asking me this, because whatever problems the Cubs have, they're nothing compared to those of the Pirates. Yeah, it's tough. In the early part of the 2000s, I tried to force myself to become a fan of a new team - the A's, the Red Sox, anybody. That didn't work, so I started a blog. By the time the Littlefield years got really absurd, I had built up a small readership, and if I hadn't had those couple hundred readers a day, I probably would have quit, because there are only so many ways to say, "The Pirates played like a Little League team today," or to ask the eternal question of whether Dave Littlefield is evil or merely stupid. Yeah, you can use humor and sarcasm, but that stuff gets old really fast when the team you love is circling the bowl.

Now the Pirates do still play like a Little League team sometimes, but at least I don't have to ask the evil/stupid question about the Bucs' management, and there's actually a lot of interesting stuff going on down in the minors where there was practically none even a few years ago. That's the sort of thing that sustains me right now. It isn't much, but it's enough.

More on today's game after the jump.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster
vs. Kevin Correia
Kevin Correia
15-12 W-L 10-10
3.85 ERA 5.40
208 SO 115
86 BB 64
25 HR 20
vs. Pit -- vs. Cubs

2010 - Ryan Dempster 15-12 35 34 1 0 0 0 215.1 198 110 92 25 86 208 3.85 1.32

Stats are 2010 season final statistics

Ryan Dempster threw three times against the Pirates last year. Twice, he gave them three runs in seven innings -- and lost anyway. Then, in his last start against them on August 31 at Wrigley Field, he decided to change it up by giving them seven runs in three innings. That was also a loss. Enough of that noise. Current Pirates are hitting .306 against him (30-for-98), with three home runs, two of them from an unlikely source, John Bowker (who has only five career HR in almost 600 career PA).

Kevin Correia, who has spent his entire career in the NL West up to now, has made eight career appearances vs. the Cubs (four starts) with a 5.63 ERA in 24 total innings. The only two Cubs who have 10 or more AB against him are Marlon Byrd (0-for-10) and Kosuke Fukudome (4-for-13). Oh, and one more thing -- what's he looking at?

Today's game is on WGN -- hooray, WGN on Opening Day! -- and ROOT Sports, which is a new name for three of the old FSN regional networks (Pittsburgh, Seattle and Denver). Here is the complete Mediacenter for today. Gameday game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout.

Today's first pitch thread will be up at 1:15 pm CDT and the overflow threads will post at 2:15 pm, 3:15 pm and 4 pm CDT. These time frames will be pretty standard for most regular season games this year -- game preview about two hours to game time, a first pitch thread (on the front page) at game time, and then overflows at an hour, two hours and 2:45 after game time (approximately). If you need more overflows due to rain delays or extra innings, post them in the fanshot section.

Discuss amongst yourselves.