One chapter ended for the Cubs on a chilly Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. A new one begins Tuesday night in Atlanta.
A day after clinching their first division title in 14 years, the Cubs finished the regular season with a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh, following an emotional pregame ceremony at which Ron Santo's number was retired.
A couple of hours after the loss, a rainbow appeared behind the center-field scoreboard, which could be interpreted as a good omen for a team that believes in magic dust.
The Cubs wound up with an 88-74 record after losing 95 games in 2002, and they headed to Atlanta for a workout Monday in preparation for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Braves. Manager Dusty Baker tentatively set his series rotation Sunday, a day after naming Kerry Wood his Game 1 starter against Russ Ortiz.
Carlos Zambrano will face Mike Hampton in Game 2, with Mark Prior matching up against ex-Cub Greg Maddux in Game 3 Friday night at Wrigley Field. If necessary, Matt Clement will start Game 4 at Wrigley, with Wood slated to pitch a Game 5 in Atlanta.
The Braves have the obvious edge in playoff experience, an advantage Baker acknowledged.
"Russ Ortiz was just in the World Series last year, pitching Game 6 [for San Francisco]," Baker said. "Hampton has been [to the postseason] two or three times. Maddux has been there about 100 times. It helps, but David slew Goliath too. Nobody thought that was going to work."
So Baker considers the Cubs a David, the quintessential underdog?
"Yeah," he replied. "How many times have the Braves been there? How many times have we been there?"
But with the Cubs having one of the best rotations in the game, how could they be considered David?
"Who would you choose to be Goliath?" Baker asked. "Us?"
No one would refer to the Cubs as Goliaths, but Baker was asked if that was the correct parable for this situation.
"That's the Atlanta Braves, man," Baker said. "They've been there like, what, 12 years in a row? That's a lot."
So Baker considers the Cubs heavy underdogs in the series?
He paused for a second and gave a sly smile.
"Slight underdogs," he said. "Right now the big boys are the Braves and the Giants, and the up-and-coming dudes are [the Cubs] and Florida. That's how it is."
Wood politely disagreed with his manager's assessment.
"I don't think we feel like we're underdogs," he said. "We feel pretty confident going in that they have to play pretty good to beat us. We have to play good to beat them too."
Atlanta has beaten the Cubs four of six this season, averaging nearly eight runs per game against the Cubs.
"They're definitely the favorites," Mark Grudzielanek said. "There's no question about that, when you win as many games  as they have and have a great offensive team. And they're supposed to beat us. We're just going to go in there and do what we can and try to win some ballgames."
Atlanta led the National League with 907 runs this year, while the Cubs scored only 724. But the Cubs also had a 3.83 earned-run average and three of the top eight pitchers in ERA: Prior ranked third at 2.43, Zambrano seventh at 3.11 and Wood eighth at 3.20.
Asked what concerned him most about the Braves, Prior replied: "Nothing, really. It's not that I'm not going to respect them or anything. I think the last two weekends, we've seen a Pittsburgh team that's been swinging well. Any lineup of any big-league team can hurt you.
"Yeah, Atlanta has a great offense, and they're something to be reckoned with. We'll figure out what our game plan is early on. I have the luxury of pitching Game 3, so I can see how Woody will face them and how we face them in Game 2. I'll just kind of learn and observe and go from there. Things could be different when it rolls around to my turn."
Can great starting pitching trump a dominant lineup? Former Braves reliever Mike Remlinger believes the rotation of Wood, Zambrano, Prior and Clement can take the team to the championship.
"That's the biggest reason I wanted to come here," Remlinger said. "The biggest thing I found down there is regardless of what you're putting on the field, if you're putting quality pitching out there you're going to have a good chance to win, if you can play defense behind it."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times