Citizens Bank Park was baseball's top home-run hitting ballpark last year, a fact that tends to scare off free-agent pitchers looking for a new home.
"That's the word," said Cubs right-hander Jon Lieber, who spent the last three seasons in Philadelphia. "You're always going to overpay for pitchers if they're going to come here."
But one pitcher who seems to have the ballpark figured out is Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels, who shut down the Cubs on one hit over seven innings Saturday night in a 7-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 45,072.
Hamels' performance was in stark contrast to that of Cubs starter Ted Lilly, who served up home runs to Pedro Feliz and Ryan Howard while allowing five runs in 41/3 innings.
"He didn't really have a good spring, and it has carried on forward to the early part of the season," manager Lou Piniella said. "He has to improve."
Lilly agreed, and had no explanation for his location issues. Opposing hitters have a .333 average against Lilly, and he's 0-2 with a 9.95 earned-run average.
"I definitely have expectations to where I can get to where I need to be," he said. "I'm certainly still not there. We're  games into the season, and I haven't contributed yet. It's definitely getting frustrating. It doesn't take long."
And it didn't take long for Lilly's day to end. A leadoff walk to Pat Burrell in the second preceded Feliz's two-run homer that gave the Phillies all the runs they would need. After a wild pitch brought home the third run in the fifth, Howard smoked a 3-2 pitch into the right-field bleachers with a man on, making it 5-0.
It was the third straight start Lilly has failed to last past the fifth inning, a troubling turn of events for the Cubs' $40 million pitcher. Last year, in the first year of his four-year deal, Lilly failed to last five innings only three times in 34 starts: once in Atlanta when he was ejected for allegedly throwing at a hitter and once in his final start in Cincinnati when he was removed early to save him for the postseason.
Lilly has been in slumps before, but this is his first as a Cub. He also knows he can get out of it.
"I've definitely had some tough stretches, as we all do," he said. "It seems like it has been too long at this point."
Hamels, meanwhile, kept the Cubs hitters off-balance by mixing his devastating changeup with a fastball that barely touched 90 m.p.h. as he reduced his ERA to 0.82. He didn't allow a hit until Derrek Lee doubled leading off the fourth. He needed only four pitches to retire the side in a 1-2-3 second inning, getting Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto to pop up on the first pitch and Mark DeRosa to do likewise on the second pitch.
The Cubs scored their only run in the eighth on Alfonso Soriano's RBI single off reliever Ryan Madson. They Cubs are hitting .244 for the season, including a .176 average from Soriano, the leadoff hitter.
"We didn't do much," Piniella said. "We didn't do much hitting. We didn't do much pitching."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun