We'll get a clue as to whether the Chicago Cubs will be contenders in the NL Central over the next seven days as they host division rivals Cincinnati for a three-game set starting Friday, followed by three games with St. Louis, beginning Tuesday.
The Cards open action Friday 1.5 games ahead of the Reds atop the division. The Pirates are 2.5 back in third, followed by the Cubs, who are 3.0 back.
"The Cardinals are playing well and Cincinnati is a game under," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "We're all feeling our way right now.
"Maybe we'll find out some stuff this week. I'd be thrilled to play in the division 90 percent of the time. I love it. The rivalries with the Cardinals and Brewers, Dusty [Baker] and Cincinnati, all of it's great."
All three teams have experienced their share of injuries.
The Cubs have lost starting pitchers Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner for almost a month. Cincinnati has had injuries to starter Johnny Cueto and third baseman Scott Rolen while St. Louis and Milwaukee lost aces Adam Wainwright and Zach Greinke to start the season. Greinke returned Wednesday.
"We've all had our injuries," Quade said. "Dusty has had his, they've had some in St. Louis, Greinke in Milwaukee. So we've kinda all had our deal.
"It's not like, ‘Whoa is me,' because we've all had ‘Whoa is me.' We would have loved to have done better than we've done, but we've managed to hang around."
The Cubs won't need a fifth starter again until May 14. That means they'll go the next seven games with their suddenly resurgent starting rotation that begins with Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. All three are coming off their best starts of the season.
Meanwhile, veteran left-hander Doug Davis may be the Cubs' fifth start on May 14. He pitched for Single-A Daytona on Thursday and is scheduled to make his next start for Triple-A Iowa early next week.