It is, as has been noted here many times, difficult to sweep a series.
Still, though, the Cubs really should have won this game, of all the pitching matchups in the series.
Before I get into the meat of Friday's 5-3 Cubs loss to the Phillies, I have some advice for Jon Lester, not that he'd consider listening to me. Yes, Jon, you probably got screwed on a strike call to Cody Asche in the fourth inning, a strike-three call that would have ended the inning.
But you cannot let that stick in your craw and mess up your execution of pitches, and though I cannot say for sure, it sure seemed as if it did, because two pitches later Asche smacked a two-run double to deep center field that at the time gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead, with the Cubs having scored first on a Kris Bryant home run (his first in 20 days, incidentally, and to the opposite field, nicely done).
That was really the only major mistake Lester made. He allowed seven other hits, but was in charge most of the way through his seven innings pitched -- except for that one place where he lost focus, and that might have cost the Cubs the game.
The Cubs took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth on a two-run homer to right by Chris Coghlan, his 10th, which establishes a new career high for him. But the Cubs could not do much else against Jerome Williams. Now think about that for a moment. Here is a man who hadn't pitched in the big leagues in over a month, and in the nine starts before he went on the DL he posted an ERA of 8.06, with 10 home runs allowed in 41⅔ innings. The Cubs hit a couple of home runs off him, but really couldn't do much else. The offense has just got to get going, and Friday was a perfect day to do it, with warm, humid conditions and the wind blowing straight out.
Even with all this, the game was winnable. I had hoped the Cubs could score an insurance run or two in the eighth inning, and they did load the bases with two out and David Ross at the plate. (Is this the place where Joe Maddon wishes he had saved Kyle Schwarber for that situation instead of pinch-hitting him leading off the seventh?)
Ross actually had a good idea. With the third baseman back, he laid down an excellent bunt, but give Maikel Franco credit. Franco made an excellent play, and the 38-year-old Ross is, unfortunately, one of the slowest runners in the game. He made it a close play, but was thrown out.
That left it up to Jason Motte, who had been perfect in save opportunities before this game. Every ball hit in the ninth inning off Motte was hit solidly, and two of them went for extra bases, a triple by Freddy Galvis and double by Asche (the first time this year that Asche has had two extra-base hits in a game) that scored the tying run.
The Cubs got the winning run to second with one out in the bottom of the ninth on a pinch single by Chris Denorfia and a groundout, but could not bring him home, even with Bryant and Anthony Rizzo batting against Ken Giles, who throws really, really hard. Bryant in particular looked bad in his at-bat against Giles, who fed him a diet of sliders that he could not handle.
Then, the fateful 10th. James Russell was obviously in the game only to face the two lefthanded hitters leading off the inning. Cesar Hernandez singled and was sacrificed to second, upon which Maddon called on the insouciant Rafael Soriano. (Go ahead, look the word up. I'll wait.)
Soriano doesn't appear to have the velocity he once did. He got Franco to ground out for the second out, and then... Jeff Francoeur.
I said, "You have got to be kidding me," when Francoeur deposited one of Soriano's sliders into the left-field bleachers to give the Phillies a two-run lead. This is after my friend Dave left the ballpark when Soriano came in, I kid you not, saying he didn't want to stay to see Francoeur do what he wound up doing.
Then, Jonathan Papelbon. I know some of you would like the Cubs to trade for him, as he has been an excellent closer for many years, including this year with no blown saves now in 17 tries. The Cubs did get a hit off him, a leadoff single by Jorge Soler, but nothing more. The thing is, the Cubs do have pitchers who can save games. It just didn't work today, and in reality, the problem isn't the Cubs' pitching, it's the offense.
Don't know what else to say about this one. Just pick up and win Saturday, is all.
There were far more Phillies fans at Wrigley Friday than I would have expected to come see a last-place team nearly 30 games under .500. I suppose a summer weekend is a good excuse for fans of any visiting team to come to Wrigley Field, but this appeared to be more Phillies fans than the number that came to see them in Chicago when they were actually good. And then I looked at the Cubs/Phillies matchups. It's been four years since the Phillies were in Chicago during July, the peak of summer-vacation season. So maybe that's it.
In any case, the Cubs now have to win to even the series, and it's an excellent pitching matchup set for Saturday at 3:05 CT: Jake Arrieta vs. Cole Hamels.