This is a franchise stuck in mediocrity. Difficult decisions await general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who insists the Phillies can contend because no team has yet distinguished itself in the National League East. That may be true, although the Phillies have displayed few signs of having the ability to improve.
They scored 16 runs Friday, three Saturday, and one Sunday. It marked the 27th time in 83 games that they have scored two or fewer runs. (They are 2-25 in those games.) The lineup mustered six hits against Dodgers pitching. A four-run deficit felt like 14.
"I'm not disappointed at all," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "This series could have been 3-1 in either direction or 2-2. They played a little better. They got the job done, and that's all that matters."
Manager Charlie Manuel expressed disappointment. "Basically," he said, "they outplayed us."
At least Rollins was upset when, twice, he believed that a Los Angeles player overslid second base on a stolen-base attempt in the fourth inning. Twice, umpire Dale Scott disagreed. Each time, that runner scored.
"That changes the outcome of the game right there," Rollins said.
Kyle Kendrick, who left the game with a possible concussion, wilted. The Dodgers ran amok. Yasiel Puig was credited with four hits, although two balls hit to Michael Young were playable. Puig scored two runs. He batted in the eighth needing a home run for the cycle. Fans chanted "M-V-Puig!" He struck out. The fans gave him a standing ovation.
In the decisive fourth inning, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp delivered key hits in a three-run rally. The Phillies failed to record a hit with a runner in scoring position until the ninth, when Rollins singled Chase Utley home to avoid a shutout. They were 1 for 16 in those situations after going 8 for 19 on Friday.
As promised, Manuel reinserted his most expensive hitter, Ryan Howard, into the lineup after a two-day benching. Howard went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He is hitless in his last 20 at-bats, and 11 were strikeouts. The $125 million slugger is trapped in one of the worst slumps of his career.
The Phillies have hovered in the same spot for weeks. The rest of the division will not wait forever for them to compete. The deficit will grow without improvement.
"We've been there before," Manuel said. "I think we've always gone the other way. "There are two ways you can go," Manuel said. "You're either going down or up. We've always been able to go up, so we'll see."
Actually, the Phillies did not go up last season.
"Faith," Rollins said. "It's that simple. The journey at the beginning and the end of the journey, you jump on that plane and you enjoy the ride. As long as that plane is in the air, you have a chance to do something. "Last I checked, we haven't made it to the all-star break yet," Rollins said. "We've been in tougher positions with much less time."
The Phillies could ponder their existence during a cross-country flight to Pennsylvania and a scheduled day off Monday. But they were not headed home. Pittsburgh, the best team in baseball, awaits.
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