Cubs can't solve Blanton, Phillies

748551.png

Cubs can't solve Blanton, Phillies

PHILADELPHIA -- Carlos Ruiz homered and drove in three runs, Joe Blanton threw 7 1-3 sharp innings and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 on Saturday night.Jimmy Rollins, back in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, added a two-run double for the Phillies, the five-time defending NL East champions who are off to a 10-11 start.Blanton (2-3) allowed two runs and eight hits, striking out eight. Chad Qualls got the last two outs in the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon finished for his seventh save in as many tries.Bryan LaHair hit an RBI double and Randy Wells (0-1) couldn't make it out of the fourth inning for Chicago. Wells gave up four runs and three hits in 3 2-3 innings. He was hurt by wildness, walking four batters.Wells didn't allow a hit until Hunter Pence led off the fourth with a single. Walks to Jim Thome and Laynce Nix loaded the bases. Ruiz then ripped a one-out, two-run single to left-center to drive in two for a 2-1 lead.With two outs, Wells walked Blanton to reload the bases. Rollins followed with a two-run double just inside the right-field line to snap an 0-for-13 slump and put the Phillies up 4-1.Rollins was in his customary spot atop the lineup after hitting third in place of the injured Chase Utley the first 20 games. Rollins had just three RBIs coming in.Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, also spent the first month last season in the No. 3 spot while Utley was sidelined. Over the past two Aprils, Rollins has a .254 (45 for 177) average with one homer and eight RBIs as the three-hole hitter.Ruiz connected off Michael Bowden in the sixth to make it 5-1.The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Starlin Castro hit a two-out single, stole second and scored on LaHair's drive to right.Thome, who started at first base and hit cleanup, left the game with tightness in his lower back. He's day to day.Meanwhile, the Phillies got some good news before the game. Ryan Howard will be heading to Clearwater on Sunday and Utley could join him within a week as the two injured stars inch closer toward joining the team for the first time this season.

Notes
The Cubs placed C Steve Clevenger on the 15-day DL (retroactive to April 26) with a right oblique strain, and recalled C Welington Castillo from Triple-A Iowa. ... Philadelphia's Ty Wigginton extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a seventh-inning single.
Box score Complete recapCopyright2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks tangle with Coyotes, Bulls ready for trade deadline

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks tangle with Coyotes, Bulls ready for trade deadline

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Fred Hoiberg's message to Bulls at trade deadline: Control what you can control

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best

Woj: Bulls still pushing for Jahlil Okafor trade with Philadelphia 76ers

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

Todd Frazier out with left oblique strain

Fire Talk Podcast Episode 1: Recapping the Fire's offseason and looking ahead to 2017

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

nate-mason-0222.jpg
USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."