|May 11: Phillies 7, Cubs 2 WP: Cole Hamels (5-1) LP: Rich Hill (4-2)|
|May 12: Phillies 11, Cubs 7 WP: Antonio Alfonseca (2-1) LP: Bob Howry (0-3)|
|May 13: Cubs 4, Phillies 1 WP: Ted Lilly (3-2) LP: Jon Lieber (1-2)|
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Here's a head-scratcher: over the previous dozen or so years, would you have preferred to be a Phillies fan or a Cubs fan?
We know the Phillies story over this time: slow improvement through the late '90s, a total collapse in 2000, year after year of frustrating near-misses since then. But since the mid-1990s, the Cubs have enjoyed both higher highs (two playoff appearances, a division title) and lower lows (the 2003 playoff loss, five seasons of 90-plus losses since `97). They had Sammy Sosa and his contributions to the great home run race of '98; they had Don Baylor's managerial shortcomings and Dusty Baker's borderline-sadistic ruination of a Hall of Fame talent in Mark Prior. They stole Derrek Lee in a trade with the Marlins; they gave away Dontrelle Willis to those same Marlins for Matt Clement (and, um, Antonio Alfonseca).
Then there's this past off-season. The Cubs outbid the Phillies for Alfonso Soriano; until pretty recently, Soriano had as many home runs (zero) as Wes Helms had, and has, for the Phils, but at an additional financial obligation of $128 million or so. And while three years, $25 million for Adam Eaton seems painfully excessive, it made as much sense at the time as the Cubs shelling out a combined $61 million for seven years of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis (both of whom have pitched very well through the early going). Chicago re-signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez, a guy many of us dreamt might don Phillies pinstripes. And they lured manager Lou Pinella out of the broadcast booth, depriving Phils GM Pat Gillick of another potential recidivism hire.
Through the first five and a half weeks of play, the revamped Cubs are 16-16, in second place but exactly as far behind the rampaging Brewers for the division lead as the Phillies are back of Atlanta. They recently had a stretch of 8 wins in 9 games, albeit against sub-.500 opponents. Oddly for a team that includes Lee, Soriano, and Ramirez among other potent hitters, the moundsmen have led the way: Rich Hill, who will oppose Cole Hamels Friday in a great battle of young lefties, has posted a 4-1 record and 1.71 ERA, third-best in the NL. Marquis, who's not scheduled to pitch this weekend, has been even better (5-1, 1.70). Lilly, set to oppose ex-Cub Jon Lieber on Sunday, is 2-2 with a 2.71 mark and is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. Carlos Zambrano, the notional staff ace whose pending free agency and tortuous contract negotiations has dominated headlines since February, is actually the Adam Eaton of this rotation: he's got a bloated 5.83 ERA to go with a 3-3 record.
With the Cubs starting two left-handers this weekend, it would be a good time for Gillick's two newly named scapegoats (classy move there, Pat, by the way... jerk), Pat Burrell and Wes Helms, to start showing some power. Burrell, who's tattooed lefties throughout his career, has just 5 hits in 33 at-bats against southpaws this season, and a brutal .212 slugging percentage. Helms is actually hitting .345 (10-29) against lefties as a Phillie, but with just three doubles and no other extra-base hits. Perhaps more surprising is that Aaron Rowand, perhaps the most pleasant surprise through the early part of the season, has just 8 hits in 33 at-bats against lefties--seven of which were singles. Rowand has a measly .606 OPS facing left-handers in `07, 228 points below his career average.