CHICAGO – The new videoboard looms large beyond the left-field wall, a gigantic symbol of a new day and a new era at Wrigley Field.
The 101-year-old ballpark got a high-definition upgrade. So did the team that plays there.
The Chicago Cubs will be tested right from the start when they send new ace Jon Lester to the mound against Adam Wainwright for the opener against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night.
The prime-time matchup for the majors' first game of the season comes after a busy winter in which the Cubs made it clear they feel they are ready to hit another gear after a top-to-bottom overhaul that tested some fans' patience.
"We were pretty transparent: It was, 'It's gonna take a few years, we're gonna have to do this the right way, that probably means a lot of losses,' " chairman Tom Ricketts said. "But I think right now, everyone knows that we've got a good young team and we've added some good veterans this offseason. We have a chance this year. We'll compete for our division title, and everyone's excited about that."
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are seeking their fifth consecutive playoff appearance. The reigning NL Central champs lost to San Francisco in the league championship series a year ago and then traded 15-game winner Shelby Miller for outfielder Jason Heyward.
They still figure to have a deep rotation, particularly if Michael Wacha can stay healthy. He missed most of the second half of last season because of a stress reaction in his shoulder and was still rusty in October. He surrendered the series-winning homer to Travis Ishikawa in Game 5 against the Giants.
"I like our five guys," Wainwright said. "I think we've got a very good, talented group here. The sky's the limit."
The Cubs believe they are headed for better days after five straight losing seasons and a 73-89 mark in 2014.
Chicago was one of the majors' most active teams in the offseason, deciding it was time to act after some of its prospects started to arrive in the majors, joining All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs brought in one of the game's top managers in Joe Maddon after they initially told Rick Renteria he would be back for a second season. The coldblooded change was a sign of their intentions, and the $155 million, six-year deal they gave Lester put the message in bold with a few exclamation marks.
They also traded for center fielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. But any significant climb into playoff contention could hinge on the development of their young players.
Top prospect Kris Bryant will spend at least the first few weeks in the minors despite a strong spring, but Jorge Soler figures to be in right field on Sunday. His approach at the plate and arm strength impressed his new manager this spring.
Ventura gets new deal
Young ace Yordano Ventura and the Kansas City Royals agreed on a five-year contract worth $23 million.
The 23-year-old Ventura dazzled as a rookie last season, going 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA.
Maddon investigation to extend into season
An MLB spokesman said there will be no resolution of the investigation into alleged tampering by the Cubs in the Maddon signing before Opening Day, as Commissioner Rob Manfred promised recently in a news conference.
The Rays accused the Cubs of tampering with Maddon in late October when he was still under contract in Tampa Bay and considering whether to stay or exercise an opt-out clause. The Cubs wound up signing Maddon to a five-year, $25 million deal, firing Renteria.
Cubs President Theo Epstein has repeatedly denied the charge, saying they went through the proper MLB channels before talking to Maddon. Epstein said in November he "welcomed" an investigation and was confident the Cubs would win.
Montreal makes a stand
Nearly 100,000 showed up Saturday in Montreal's Olympic Stadium to make a point: Montreal's a baseball town.
The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-1 on Saturday, and 50,231 watched. The teams also played Friday, drawing a total of 96,545. The hope is that Major League Baseball will see that Montreal deserves big league ball back after losing the Expos to Washington following the 2004 season.
Giants' Ishikawa to DL
San Francisco Giants outfielder and first baseman Travis Ishikawa will begin the season on the disabled list because of a back injury. He's just beginning to hit off a tee as part of his rehabilitation, his team revealed.
Ishikawa became an unlikely postseason hero last fall with a three-run home run that helped the Giants win Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.