CHICAGO – Jimmy Rollins was on the money in his appraisal of the Phillies' season-opening road trip.
“Not a bad week, but it could have been better,” he said. “It could have been 4-2 or even 5-1.”
The Phillies ended the trip with an 8-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field (see Instant Replay). The defeat left the Phils at 3-3 as they head home for Tuesday’s home opener against Milwaukee.
Sunday’s loss was the only game the Phillies weren’t really in on the trip that saw them go 1-2 in Texas and 2-1 in Chicago. They had led in each of the previous five games on the trip. Only two late blown leads by the bullpen prevented them from sweeping Texas. Wednesday’s loss in Texas was particularly painful as Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
“We had a chance to win more games than we did and that’s a positive,” manager Ryne Sandberg said.
The Phillies were near the bottom of the National League in offense last season. In six games on the trip, they averaged 10 hits and five-plus runs.
“We’ve been getting some hits, so that’s a good thing,” Rollins said. “Today we got a decent amount of hits (eight) but none of them were big hits, unfortunately.”
The Phils were 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position Sunday.
A number of other factors prevented the Phillies from sweeping the Cubs on Sunday.
First and foremost was the starting pitching. A.J. Burnett walked six batters and hit another. Three of his walks came in the first inning and the Cubs, hitting just .216 as a team, turned all three into runs as they jumped to a 4-0 lead in the opening frame.
Burnett settled down and pitched into the sixth inning when he was betrayed by his defense en route to giving up four unearned runs.
After the game, Burnett pointed the finger squarely at himself and his poor control.
“That was the key to the whole game,” Burnett said. “You aren’t going to win games throwing ball one, ball two. The first-pitch strikes are big and coming out and setting the tone is big and neither of those things were done today.
“I just didn’t get it done, bottom line. I was pitching behind. That was embarrassing. I don’t care who you are or who you play against, that’s unacceptable.”
Ben Revere’s dropped line drive paved the way for those four unearned runs in the sixth, but Burnett didn’t help himself in the inning when he tipped Emilio Bonifacio’s ball up the middle with his glove. Rollins, the shortstop, ended up fielding the ball near the second-base bag but couldn’t touch it with his foot because he said he’d committed his momentum toward first base before Burnett tipped the ball. Rollins ended up losing the handle on the ball and four runs eventually scored in the inning.
“It hit my glove,” Burnett said. “I should have caught it.”
Sandberg absolved Rollins for getting doubled-off second on Ryan Howard’s liner to second baseman Bonifacio, who was stationed in shallow right field in the fifth inning.
“That’s a tough read with the shift,” Sandberg said.
The Phillies had a number of missed opportunities in the game as evidenced by that 1-for-15 mark with runners in scoring position. Howard made four of those outs, but hit the ball hard three of those times. Howard sent two balls to the warning track that were caught. In the ninth inning, as the Cubs’ bullpen (Jose Veras walked four) was having all kinds of trouble closing out the game, Howard lined a hard-hit ball to left to end the game.
Howard had hit in all five of the Phillies’ previous games before his hard-luck day Sunday.
“That’s baseball,” Rollins said. “He hit the baseball on the screws right at people. That’s a good sign. Eventually those balls will start back-spinning out of the yard.”
Both of Howard’s extra-base hits on the trip -- a homer and a double -- came against left-handed pitchers. In all, he had three hits and seven strikeouts against lefties on the trip.
Sandberg sees Howard making progress.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Sandberg said. “I like him staying in the middle of the field the way he’s doing and going to left-center with pitches. He’s driving the ball. He’s squaring up balls and having good, aggressive swings and contact.”
Chase Utley has hit in all six games with three doubles and two homers.
If the Phillies are going to be better than a .500 club, Utley and Howard need to continue to be a formidable tandem.
“We haven’t had that in maybe about four years,” said Rollins, referring to the injuries that have knocked Utley and Howard out of the lineup in recent years.
“This is a good start. Now it’s time to go home and put some wins together.”