"We played a lot of tight games last year and it came down to, who is going to get the big hit?" Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. "Everyone is always really excited to play in this rivalry.
"Remembering those experiences and learning from them and trying to use those experiences will help us this year, because this division is more up for grabs," DeJong said. "You can see that from the beginning. There is no clear team right now. These games are huge for us. We have to come out ready to play."
Tyler Chatwood was scheduled to start Sunday vs. the Braves and again Monday vs. the Cardinals, but those games were postponed because of the weather, so the right-hander will start Tuesday against Adam Wainwright.
For Wainwright, this will be his 35th career start against the Cubs and 19th at Wrigley Field, where he's 10-2 with a 3.79 ERA.
"I think they've done some nice things," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals' personnel moves in the offseason. "[Marcell] Ozuna to me, I don't know if he's underrated, but I think he's one of the best hitters in the game. Period. Just like [Atlanta's Ozzie Albies] at second base is one of the best players in the game. Period. Nobody talks about [Albies]. There's some really good players who are ascending. Ozuna is one of them."
Maddon and the Cubs are very familiar with Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, who was Chicago's leadoff man in 2015-16.
"It's going to be fun," Fowler said of playing the Cubs. "They have a good team over there and we have a good team. It'll be an exciting series."
The Cubs will get a boost with the return of Anthony Rizzo, who has been on the disabled list because of tightness in his lower back. Rizzo is scheduled to be activated before the game.
The Cardinals have nine players new to the rivalry, including Greg Holland, who signed on Opening Day to be the closer and walked four batters in his first outing. Bud Norris, who saved 19 games for the Angels last season, may take over the role, at least temporarily.
The pitcher to watch is Cardinals rookie reliever Jordan Hicks. One of the youngest players in the big leagues, Hicks throws a triple-digit sinker and has yet to allow an earned run over six appearances. According to Statcast™, the 21-year-old is one of the hardest throwers in the Majors this season.
The Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers entered Monday within 3 1/2 games of each other in the NL Central.
"Their shortstop [DeJong] can really hit and play some defense, Yadier [Molina] looks reborn a bit," Maddon said. "I don't know what their pitching looks like. From what I'm seeing, the teams on the field [in the NL Central] are all pretty good. As always, it will come down to pitching."