Opening Day Preview: Chicago, Atlanta Possible Wild Card Race

John EngelCorrespondent IApril 4, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 27: Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs takes a moment to himself before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 27, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Pirates 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On Monday, the Chicago Cubs will open up their highly anticipated season against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, while thousands of the Wrigley faithful pray that this is the year. And we're ready. 

Though both are often overlooked in post-season predictions, Braves fans and Cubs fans alike may see the beginning of a heated wild card race. 

Each club has a very daunting task ahead of them in 2010, with two of the most competitive divisions in Major League Baseball. 

The Atlanta Braves, who finished the 2009 season third in the National League East division behind Philadelphia and Florida, once again have the challenge of dethroning the 2008 World Champs, as well as competitive offensive team in the Marlins. 

Unfortunately for the Braves, the Phillies will be even more successful with the acquisition of right handed ace Roy Halladay and are once again the favorite to win the division. 

The heart of the Atlanta team will be anchored by a healthy pitching staff, led by starter Tim Hudson, who battled injuries in 2008 and the first half of '09. 

With the acquisitions of veteran pitchers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, few teams will have the luxury of looking past the Braves' deep bullpen. 

Losing Javier Vasquez to the Yankees did hurt the Braves rotation, but if Hudson and Derek Lowe can remain healthy in 2010, there's no doubt that the team can be successful in Atlanta. 

Clearly the Braves will have the support of rookie phenom Jason Heyward, who will most likely debut in left field while hitting in the four or five holes.  

The Cubs finally freed themselves of the Milton Bradley baggage while adding Xavier Nady and Marlon Byrd to support the already deep out fielding core. 

Probable starting pitchers for the Monday match up are Derek Lowe for the Atlanta Braves and Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs. 

Both teams are looking for a fresh start in their 2010 campaigns, while looking to capture a playoff spot come September. 

With the National League East crown already awarded to the Phillies, the Braves will embark on a dense wild card push that may include Chicago. 

Chicago faces a wide-open NL Central division, that may surprise people in many aspects. Cincinnati could be the sleeper in the group with a strong rotation anchored by Cuban national Aroldis Chapman, who will join the club later in the season. 

Cubs Braves will definitely be the one of the premier match ups to watch on opening week,  and may give fans a foretaste of the battle to come.