The Philadelphia Phillies dropped a 6-2 decision to the host Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
There are two key differences right now between the overachieving Phillies (26-22) and the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs (32-14), whom the Fightin’ Phils are visiting during this Memorial Day weekend at historic Wrigley Field.
Those two key differences were on display in the series opener on a rain-soaked Friday afternoon, a 6-2 victory for the hosts.
One of those keys is top-shelf, proven veteran starting pitching. While the Phils have received some fine efforts from their young starters this season, the Cubs rotation features arms that are simply at a different level.
Left-hander Jon Lester, in his 11th big league season, delivered on the mound for Chicago with a 6.1 inning effort over which he allowed one earned run on six hits, walked two, and struck out seven Phils’ batters.
Lester is a three-time All-Star, has won a pair of World Series, and has a half-dozen 15+ Wins seasons under his belt. This is the kind of experience and success that the young Phillies staff aspires to, but that is still years down the road.
The other key is run-scoring ability – the Cubs have it on a consistent basis and the Phillies are one of baseball’s worst. Chicago ranks 3rd in all of baseball in runs scored, while the Phils are ahead of only the putrid Atlanta Braves.
In their first 48 games this season the Phillies have scored six runs, the figure put up by the Cubs yesterday, just five times.
The Cubs have reached at least six runs scored 24 times, including in each of their last three games, in two fewer games played. The difference between the two offensive attacks is night and day.
Chicago jumped on top early, scoring a run in the bottom of the 1st inning. Ben Zobrist, who celebrated his 35th birthday a day earlier, started things with a one out double off Phillies’ starter Adam Morgan, then scored on a two-out RBI single by Jorge Soler.
Morgan continued a troubling roller-coaster pattern of starting efforts in this game. He would ultimately allow six earned runs on eight hits over just four innings.
“He’s one good start, one bad start,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said per MLB.com’s Cody Stavenhagen. “One good start, one bad start … At this level, you have to be more consistent to be successful, and he’s capable of doing it. He just has to do it.”
The Phils briefly got things tied up with a run in the top of the 3rd inning. Peter Bourjos led it off with a single. Then with one out, the Phillies received a pair of major gifts from the Chicago defense.
Freddy Galvis sent what appeared to be an easy fly ball into left-center field. Cubs’ center fielder Dexter Fowler tracked it down, but the ball simply plopped in and out of his glove, dropping for an error.
That error was compounded when he threw back into the infield. The ball got away from 3rd baseman Javier Baez for a 2nd error on the play, with Bourjos and Galvis racing to 3rd and 2nd bases respectively.
So instead of a man on first and two outs, the Phillies had 2nd and 3rd with one out, and with their #3 and 4 hitters coming to the plate. Rather than make the Cubs pay for those mistakes, the Phils let them off easy, scoring just a single run with a Maikel Franco sac fly.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, the Cubs broke the tie by flexing their offensive muscle. Soler led the inning off with a solo home run, his 5th of the season.
Then with two on and one out, David Ross drove his 4th homer of the year out to left field, pushing the Chicago lead out to a 5-1 margin. The way that Lester was going and the Phillies offense has been producing this season, it may as well have been 500-1.
After that point, the game bogged down to a plodding finish thanks largely to a pair of lengthy rain delays. The Cubs made it 6-1 with another longball in the bottom of the 5th, a true bomb by Kris Bryant that left the ball park over the left field stands.
That was it for Morgan who now, thanks to his own inconsistency combined with some of the club’s top pitching prospects own success at AAA, has to begin to worry about his place in the Phils rotation.
“Nobody’s solid in their spots,” Mackanin said per Stavenhagen. “Last year I always had to talk about how you audition every day. Every time you go out there, you got to keep doing it. At this level, consistency is the hallmark of a good Major League player.”
Lester was still out there in the top of the 7th when he allowed a one out double to Odubel Herrera. That ended his own day, and he was replaced by Pedro Strop, who the Phillies greeted with back-to-back singles, the 2nd from Franco scoring Herrera with the run that closed out the scoring.
If there was one bright spot on the day for the Phillies it was the continued success of the bullpen. Andrew Bailey, Brett Oberholtzer, and Colton Murray combined to shut the Cubs out over four combined innings, allowing two hits with a 6/1 K:BB ratio.