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Spring Training Opener Previews: Cubs vs. Athletics at Mesa, Cubs vs. Giants at Scottsdale, Thursday 3/5, 2:05 CT

It's been a long winter... but baseball is back! Here's your first game thread of 2015!

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- We made it!

Winter might still have parts of the USA in its icy grip, but Cubs baseball returns this afternoon, with not one, but two games to follow. The Cubs face the A's at Sloan Park, and another half-squad of Cubs will head to Scottsdale Stadium to take on the Giants. There will be a tribute to Ernie Banks before the Sloan Park game and the Cubs will wear No. 14 caps in both Thursday games. It's an eerie coincidence that on the first day there will be Cubs baseball after his passing, the Cubs are "playing two." (The schedule was out last October.)

The beginning of spring training is always time for optimism, hope and excitement. There's obviously a buzz around this Cubs team after the hire of Joe Maddon and the multiple free-agent and trade acquisitions over the winter.

We'll only see starting pitchers go a couple of innings in their first go-around, and with competition for the final spot in the rotation you are likely to see multiple starters or starter candidates pitch in the same game.

I'm planning on attending all 15 home games at Sloan Park and seven of the away games; perhaps I'll join you in the game threads for some of the games I won't be attending.

Happy Spring Opening Day! Here are the particulars for today's games and also for how game threads will work during spring training.

Cubs lineup vs. A's:

Fowler CF, Rizzo 1B, Castro SS, Montero C, Baez 2B, Coghlan LF, Olt 3B, Sweeney DH, Lake RF

A's lineup:

Crisp LF, Gentry CF, Zobrist 2B, Butler 1B, Lawrie 3B, Canha RF, Nunez DH, Carlin C, Sogard SS

Cubs lineup vs. Giants:

La Stella 2B, Denorfia LF, Alcantara CF, Soler RF, Castillo C, Bryant 3B, Schwarber DH, Valaika 1B, Russell SS

Giants lineup:

Aoki LF, Panik 2B, Belt 1B, Pence RF, Duvall 3B, Sanchez C, Arias SS, Perez CF, Vogelsong P

Travis Wood gets the start for the Cubs in Mesa against the Athletics. He'll be followed by Anthony Carter, Neil Ramirez, Drake Britton, Francisley Bueno, Donn Roach and Gonzalez Germen (not necessarily in that order). Barry Zito -- yes, Barry Zito! -- will get the nod for the A's. Also on the A's pitching list: Fernando Abad, Ryan Verdugo, Chris Bassitt, Tyler Clippard and Pat Venditte. Venditte is one to watch -- he's the ambidextrous pitcher who can throw both righthanded and lefthanded.

Jacob Turner, who's in the mix for the fifth-starter spot, will go in Scottsdale against the Giants and be followed by Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, Blake Parker, Joseph Ortiz, Hunter Cervenka and Jorge De Leon (again, order to be determined). Ryan Vogelsong will start for the Giants.

The Cubs/A's game will be on with Len Kasper and Mick Gillispie. The Cubs/Giants game will be on with the Giants broadcasting crew. Gameday for Cubs/Athletics Gameday for Cubs/Giants

* Please remember that Gameday for spring training generally does not do pitch-by-pitch as during the regular season -- they usually just post the result of each at-bat.

Here is the complete Mediacenter for today.

For spring-training games, we'll have a first-pitch thread five minutes before game time and one overflow thread, 90 minutes after game time (because I know how you all like overflow threads!). For today, that will be 2 p.m. CT and 3:30 p.m. CT. These threads will not post individually onto the front page; instead, you can find links to them in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page. They will also appear in this StoryStream™. The pitcher box and regular-season stats will return on Opening Day.

Discuss amongst yourselves.