Cubs embark on tough 19-game stretch Friday

Cubs embark on tough 19-game stretch Friday

PITTSBURGH -- It's crunch time for the Cubs over the next 19 games. Starting Friday against the Braves, the Cubs begin a stretch of consecutive games against teams that finished above .500 last season, including 13 against 2012 playoff teams.

"We don't look at it as tough, but a way to show what we've got from the beginning," Chicago pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. "I think it's better we face those teams and we face good competition early on to test ourselves and see how well we are this year.

"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," he 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."

Villanueva, who will make his Cubs debut Saturday against the Braves, said manager Dale Sveum stresses the need to prepare every day as if it's Game 7 of the World Series. That's the approach the right-hander takes.

"My start day is the day to go out and have fun," Villanueva said. "The other four days, I'm bored out of my mind. That's all I'm looking for is giving the team a chance to hang around, score some runs and win a ballgame."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.