"I just see a team that is out to prove something," Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said following Saturday's 2-0 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, which improved the team to 3-2. "And I like guys and players that are out to prove something. I have a lot to prove. A lot of people in this clubhouse have something to prove and our manager [Ryne Sandberg] has a lot to prove. So I like that makeup."
Of course, a 3-2 mark hardly makes a hot start. But the Phillies have a chance Sunday to sweep the Cubs before they return to Philadelphia for a 10-game homestand. They also look back at their series in Texas and believe they should have won at least one of the two games they lost in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"We played well as a team," said Marlon Byrd, who is proving his worth defensively in right field. "Everything comes together with a team, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. It happened early with us, which is good. I think we're starting to feel comfortable."
They showed some of the possibilities on a frigid afternoon Saturday.
Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee bounced back from a forgettable performance Monday in Texas, where he allowed 11 hits, eight runs and one walk in five innings. He looked like himself against the Cubs, allowing 10 hits and striking out six in seven scoreless innings. Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless eighth and Papelbon rebounded from a blown save Wednesday with a perfect ninth to pick up his first save of the season.
"He was definitely tough," Cubs third baseman Mike Olt said of Lee. "He was working both sides of the plate really well and mixing in his offspeed and keeping us off balance."
Byrd made a fantastic running catch in the right-field corner with a runner on first and one out in the first inning. The Phillies played nine different players in right field last season, and it is difficult to picture most of them catching that ball.
"We don't catch that ball last year at all," Sandberg said. "That was outstanding, into the wind, stayed with it. … He gets real good jumps. He runs to the spot. He's done a nice job coming in, too. That's a big difference right there. That play right there is a big difference in the game, especially early on."
Jimmy Rollins made a fantastic play to start the fifth when Darwin Barney hit a ball up the middle. Rollins picked the ball, spun and threw to get him.
"That play by Jimmy was crucial," Lee said. "That was unbelievable."
The Phillies are not expected to score a ton of runs this season -- although they have scored 28 runs through five games -- which means defense is going to be critical.
They have been getting it early.
They also have been coming up with timely hits. They are hitting .304 (14-for-46) with three doubles, two home runs, 18 RBIs, nine walks and eight strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
Chase Utley, who went 3-for-3 with a double, home run, RBI, walk and two runs scored, hit a solo home run to right field in the first inning to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Domonic Brown hit a one-out single to left-center field in the fourth to score Utley from second to make it 2-0.
Utley hit .217 (13-for-60) with a .509 OPS in Spring Training, which created more than a few concerned Phillies fans back home. But he is hitting .476 (10-for-21) with two doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and a 1.379 OPS.
"He looks good," Sandberg said. "He's feeling good. He's in great shape. Quality at-bats right now. On base four times, scored two runs. He's very healthy. He looks good."
Health has been a mantra for this team. They are mostly healthy with Cole Hamels in line to rejoin the rotation the final week of April. If the Phillies can take advantage of the Cubs on Sunday and play well in their first homestand, they could have a record to back up that confidence. They wouldn't mind that one bit.