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Cubs’ schedule heats up

Chicago Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuen(24) throws first during seventh inning baseball game against Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Thursday April 4

Chicago Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena (24) throws to first during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh Thursday, April 4, 2013. The Cubs won 3-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Updated: April 5, 2013 4:41PM



ATLANTA — The Cubs finally escaped the cold of Pittsburgh, and by Saturday in Atlanta temperatures are supposed to be in the 70s.

But if the Cubs are looking to warm up, they might want to be careful for what they wish for.

If you thought the heat was on closer Carlos Marmol before he got his first save in Thursday’s eventful ninth, take a look what’s next.

Because the schedule’s about to get particularly hot.

For all the stellar pitching and hand-stinging hitting the first three games that led to the Cubs’ first season-opening series win in four years, the next 19 games come against five teams that finished an average of 22 games over .500 last year and that are all expected to contend this year.

“We don’t look at it as tough; we look at it as a way to show what we’ve got from the beginning,” said fifth-starter Carlos Villanueva, who starts Saturday in Atlanta in the first of a six-series gauntlet that also includes Milwaukee, San Francisco, Texas, Milwaukee again and Cincinnati.

“It’s good,” Villanueva said. “It’s better that we face that good competition early on and kind of test ourselves and see how well off we are this year.”

Four of those five teams in that rough 19-game stretch were playoff teams a year ago.

“That’s part of the game, manager Dale Sveum said. “You’ve got to find ways to win them games.”



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