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STL@MIL: Wainwright fans six in his return

On Friday afternoon, the Cardinals will take the field in front of their hometown fans for the first time since notching the club's 11th World Series championship last fall. Though the ring ceremony won't be until Saturday's contest, there will be plenty for the Cardinals faithful to look forward to in Friday's home opener at Busch Stadium, starting with the pitching matchup.

Fresh off highly-anticipated season debuts -- albeit for different reasons -- Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright will toe the rubber against the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija. For Wainwright, it will be his first home start in more than 18 months. And while the Cardinals will be excited to entertain their home fans once again, Chicago will be looking on attentively.

"They're the best in the world right now," said Chicago manager Dale Sveum. "They're the world champions. You're going to be out there, you're going to have to watch [the ceremony] but, hey, you want other people watching you do it someday, too. It's a fun day, no question about it. I've been able to do it twice and it's very, very fun."

After missing the entire 2011 campaign following Tommy John surgery, Wainwright allowed three runs off four hits over 5 2/3 innings against the Brewers in his first game this season. Now, the runner-up for the 2010 National League Cy Young Award will take the mound in front of the home crowd for the first time since Sept. 19, 2010.

"I'm back out there pitching again," Wainwright said following his debut. "It's just another step towards getting back to being a great big league pitcher like I know I can be."

Within the Cardinals' clubhouse, manager Mike Matheny added that "it's going to be fun to watch him," and first baseman Lance Berkman said Wainwright will win 20 games this season if he pitches the way he did last Saturday.

As for Samardzija, the reliever-turned-starter will be looking to follow up an impressive debut after earning a spot in the Cubs' rotation this spring. The 27-year-old right-hander came within one out of a complete game Sunday, limiting the Nationals to one earned run off four hits, while striking out eight and walking none.

"I really feel I had a chip on my shoulder," Samardzija said after his sixth career start, and first since 2010. "I've talked a big game about wanting to start, and made it public. I don't want to look like an idiot. I wanted to come out and do what I needed to do, and be in the zone and let the guys behind me work."

Samardzija will have his hands full with the Cardinals, whose offense hasn't missed a beat in the early post-Albert Pujols era. St. Louis enters Friday's contest averaging 5.3 runs per game and has a plus-16 run differential.

Along with the early-season offensive prowess, the Cardinals' pitching staff has turned in five quality starts in seven games.

"It's unbelievable, you're going to win a ton of ballgames if your starters do what they're doing," third baseman David Freese said. "The bats aren't always going to be there. The arms won't always be there.

"But when everything is clicking, we're a tough team to beat."

Cubs: Byrd off to a slow start
Center fielder Marlon Byrd has gotten off to an unusually slow start for the Cubs this season, going just 1-for-21 in his first six games. Byrd got a day off in Thursday's game, and Chicago has reason to believe he'll rebound. Prior to this season, Byrd had hit a combined .319 with 29 extra-base hits and 34 RBIs over the past three years in April.

"You don't put a time limit on it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said about changing the lineup. "There's a time when there have to be adjustments made, and whether that's a week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks into the season, the bottom line is production is what this job is all about, and we have to make adjustments. That's how people survive in the big leagues."

Cardinals: Berkman's status uncertain
First baseman Lance Berkman missed Wednesday's finale against the Reds with a sore left calf, and it was unclear whether he'd be in Friday's lineup. He initially felt tightness in the calf while legging out a triple in the sixth inning of Tuesday's game.

Matheny said that Berkman would have had the day off regardless of how his calf reacted on Wednesday, Berkman wasn't very optimistic about the progress. "Not good," he said of his calf Wednesday morning. "It's a little sore this morning. It's probably not playable. We'll just have to wait to see how it responds. [Thursday] is an off-day, so that's good."

Worth noting
• The Cardinals and Cubs have alternated winning the season series each of the past four years. St. Louis took the series in 2011, winning 10 of the 15 meetings.

• Starlin Castro has reached base safely in 46 of his last 47 games.

• The Cubs won by blowout on Thursday, but prior to that, all six of their games had been decided by three runs or less.

• The Cardinals are 5-2 this season, and they haven't started faster since going 6-1 in 2000. St. Louis won its first seven games in 1962. Comments