Chase Utley has provided more than enough for the Philadelphia Phillies in the first two games of this series against the Chicago Cubs.
Another such effort plus a solid outing from A.J. Burnett could give the Phillies a three-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
Utley put more distance from his pedestrian numbers in spring training – when he hit .217 with three RBIs – by homering for the second straight game and going 3 for 3 in Saturday’s 2-0 victory for Philadelphia (3-2). The veteran second baseman, a lifetime .338 hitter (27 for 80) at Wrigley, is 10 for 21 with four extra-base hits while hitting safely in all five games.
”He looks good,” said manager Ryne Sandberg of Utley. ”He’s feeling good, he’s in great shape and he’s producing quality at-bats right now. He’s very healthy and he looks good.”
Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva (0-2, 13.50 ERA) has been the one who’s looked good in the head-to-head meetings with Utley, however, striking him out five times while holding him hitless in nine at-bats. Villanueva would like to extend that success in his first start of the season after yielding two runs and four hits in taking a pair of losses in as many appearances.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 14 lifetime games against the Phillies but did not receive a decision in his only start back in 2011.
Domonic Brown, who drove in Utley for Philadelphia’s other run Saturday with a fourth-inning single, is 4 for 7 with three RBIs in the series.
Burnett (0-0, 1.50) will try to keep first-year Cubs manager Rick Renteria winless at Wrigley. The only run he allowed against Texas on Tuesday came in the sixth inning, and it was enough to make the right-hander lament his effort after the Phillies lost 3-2 on a ninth-inning rally.
"Shutdown innings, you’re going to hear that a lot," he told the team’s official website after allowing seven hits in six innings. "That’s what starters do. I think a shutdown inning in the sixth would’ve been huge. Would’ve kept them at bay a little bit. That sixth inning, you’ve got to shut them down."
He shut down the Cubs with varying degrees of success last year pitching for Pittsburgh, going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts to move to 7-2 with a 2.99 ERA in 11 lifetime outings against them. The last two came at Wrigley, where he went 1-0 while yielding four runs and seven hits in 13 1-3 innings.
Chicago (1-4) has yet to score more than three runs in any game, and despite 10 hits Saturday, the Cubs went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and are 4 for 40 in such situations thus far. Renteria, though, is optimistic for a breakthrough after Emilio Bonifacio and Starlin Castro were a combined 5 for 9 at the top of the order and Anthony Rizzo also added two hits.
"You never stop talking about it until you start to understand it and get a good feel for it," Renteria told the Cubs’ website. "I know we didn’t come up with a victory today, but for me, it was a ballgame we were in the whole way."
Castro is 9 for 22 lifetime versus Burnett, while Rizzo is 3 for 15 with a homer.
Philadelphia’s last three-game sweep at Wrigley came Aug. 11-13, 2009.