It won't take the Cubs long to figure out how they measure up against some of the National League's best clubs this season.
Starting with Friday's series opener against the Braves at Turner Field, the Cubs will play 19 straight games against teams that finished above .500 last season, including 13 against playoff teams. Following the weekend series in Atlanta, the Cubs finally open their home schedule with a 10-game stint against the Brewers, Giants and Rangers.
"We don't look at it as tough, but [as] a way to show what we've got from the beginning," said pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who will start Saturday's contest. "I think it's better [that] we face those teams and we face good competition early on to test ourselves and see how well we are this year."
After taking two of three against the Pirates to open the season, the Cubs will look to build on that momentum against the new-look Braves. Following last season's loss in the NL Wild Card playoff and the retirement of Chipper Jones, Atlanta bolstered its already strong roster by adding brothers B.J. and Justin Upton to the mix.
"They're going to torture pitchers," said left-hander Paul Maholm, who reaped the benefits of a nine-run explosion against the Phillies on Wednesday. "They're going to have their nights when they won't, but I'll take this lineup over any other."
Braves left-hander Mike Minor hopes to be the beneficiary of similar run support when he takes the hill opposite Cubs newcomer Scott Feldman in Friday's series opener. Though silencing Atlanta's potent lineup won't be an easy task for Feldman, it should make for a good preview of the daunting early-season schedule that lies ahead for the Cubs over the next few weeks.
"It's such a long season, and we're not going to think about winning one series or two series -- we have to focus on winning ballgames one at a time," Villanueva said. "It's so cliche, it's so boring, but it is how it is. For us to be playing tough teams now -- the Braves, the Giants, the Brewers, the Reds -- it's good. We get a chance to show what we've got early on."
Cubs: Feldman ready for NL debut
On Friday, for the first time in his regular-season career, Feldman will take the mound donning a uniform other than that of the Rangers.
After spending his first eight seasons in Texas, Feldman this offseason signed a one-year deal with Chicago. The right-hander went 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA in 29 appearances (21 starts) last year.
"I'm kind of anxious," Feldman said of his Cubs debut. "Sitting here, watching three games, I want to get that first one under my belt and get off to a good start."
Braves: Minor not worried about rough spring finish
When Minor takes the hill on Friday night, he'll be looking to put a rough Spring Training behind him and rediscover the form that led to a dominant second half last season.
Minor, who posted a 2.21 ERA in his final 15 starts in 2012, allowed 14 earned runs in as many innings over his final three spring outings. He ended the schedule by allowing five runs on six hits, including three homers, in five innings against the Mets.
However, he isn't concerned about those rocky performances heading into his season debut.
"I feel good," Minor said. "I feel like I've grown up a lot from last year. If that happened last year, then I would be pretty [upset], with my head down and thinking it was over. I have a lot of confidence, and I feel good going into the season."
• The Braves lost, 2-0, to the Phillies on Thursday, their first loss in a contest started by Kris Medlen since May 23, 2010. The club had won each of the last 23 times Medlen toed the rubber at the start of a game.
• Minor is 4-0 in four career starts against the Cubs, the most victories he has against any team.
• Turner Field is one of eight stadiums in which Feldman has yet to pitch in his eight-year career.