Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

With the lowly Cubs coming to town this evening to take on our first place Phillies, we reached out to a Chicago writer who we read frequently cracking jokes at the Cubs expense on Twitter. Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and is the author of such pieces as "The wreck at Wrigley is tough to watch." We've heard things were bad, but we thought we'd ask him just how bad. I've also had beers with Jon in the past at Wrigley, so I asked him to feel free to have some fun at the Cubs expense. Our conversation below.

Enrico: We tend to get tunnel vision a bit here in Philadelphia and focus only on our Phillies, but it's hard not to notice when a guy on the Cubs blasts off about how "We stinks." As a guy who covers the Cubs closely, are things as really as bad in Wrigleyville as Carlos Zambrano seems to think?

Jon Greenberg: Yes, yes, yes. Personally, I think "We Stinks" should become the team's rallying cry, and if there isn't a bootleg T-shirt with that slogan on it by Monday night's game, I'm going to blame the economy or something.

A large section of Cubs fans are really disappointed in the direction of the franchise, which has really nosedived since the 2008 playoff exit. The fans and the franchise just hasn't recovered from that sweep by Los Angeles. I mean, Jim Hendry gave Milton Bradley a multi-year deal months after that! It should have been revoked by reason of insanity.

But a lot of Cubs fans like to be mired in the misery of this team. They won't admit it, but they do. So maybe they're secretly delighted by the admission the team stinks.

I didn't really answer the question, but yeah the team sucks. There are too many Triple-A call-ups on the roster right now, none of whom with any whiff of power. The defense is atrocious and the pitching staff is missing an experienced Major League coach and lacks any semblance of depth.

Also, attendance is down.

Enrico: But at least they're not as bad as the Astros!?!

Things are quite different in Philadelphia. We're riding the most success we've seen out of the Phillies franchise in most of our lifetimes (if not ever?), but a certain segment of fans have turned into over-reactionaries. The Phils are in first place, but do certainly have plenty of weaknesses. The offense has lost a lot of its pop, perhaps due to age, and struggles to put up big runs on a consistent basis.

They've also been playing down to their opponents lately. Struggling against lesser quality teams like Washington and Pittsburgh. They've seem to lack that killer instinct to be able to put teams away when they should.

Which leads me to believe a series with the Cubs won't be as easy as the two teams records may indicate. Any chance the younger Cubs players step up against a championship contender? Although you can't like having to run up against Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt in three of the four games here.

Jon Greenberg: You're right Enrico Pallazo, the Cubs are better than the Astros. A whopping game-and-a-half after the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Reds on Wednesday afternoon, breaking an eight-game losing streak.

Can the Cubs win a game off Philly? Sure. It's baseball, right? (Fill in your favorite baseball cliche here.) Maybe Zambrano and Garza throw back-to-back no-hitters. Sure. Maybe Doug Davis, ah forget it.

But these Cubs hitters against Halladay, Lee and Oswalt? It's going to get ugly. Have you even heard of half the team right now? Marlon Byrd and Soriano are on the DL, remember. It's amazing how good of a staff the Phillies have, and fans should revel in it.

Phillies fans have it good, but they have every right to be nervous. Baseball's meat grinder of a season is guaranteed to cause perpetual worry. In 2008, Cubs fans rode the entire season on a wave of good vibes and look how that ended up.

Enrico: Not going to lie, it's quite enjoyable to listen to you talk about how awful our competition is.

We'll end with this: how about one or two of the younger Cubs players we'll see over the next few days that have shown some real potential?We saw the Dodgers this week playing former Phillies closer Tom Gordon's kid at shortstop for the first time ever. Kid had ridiculous speed. Real fun to watch.

Anyone young and exciting to look out for on the Cubs?

Jon Greenberg: Well, even you East Coast elites have probably heard of Starlin Castro, right? He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the other week. Even though he's still erratic on defense, he's an exciting player with All-Star potential. Not Pirates' All-Star potential (Jack Wilson, Carlos Garcia), but Jimmy Rollins' type ish.

Pint-sized CF Tony Campana (pictured right) would be a fan favorite in Philly. He's small, white, presumably Italian, wears his hat cocked to the side and flies around like Aaron Rowand's kid brother. He's kind of like Sam Fuld, whom the Cubs traded in the Matt Garza deal.

Second baseman Darwin Barney is having a very good first full season in the majors. He's got the most multi-hit games of any rookie (24, I think) and isn't an idiot, which is refreshing. He told me playing baseball is "like blackjack. You love it and you hate it."

That's fitting for this series. The Cubs hate baseball right now while the Phillies love it.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."