Feeble Phillies fall to Cards for third straight loss

Carlos Ruiz struck out to end the fifth inning against the Cardinals. The Phillies lineup was quiet again. JEFF ROBERSON / AP
Carlos Ruiz struck out to end the fifth inning against the Cardinals. The Phillies lineup was quiet again. JEFF ROBERSON / AP
Posted: July 25, 2013

ST. LOUIS - The game's model franchise took batting practice Tuesday afternoon, and Charlie Manuel was an observer. The Phillies manager marveled at the Cardinals' ability to develop young, everyday hitters and mix them with the right veterans. He admired their manager, Mike Matheny. He referenced the "Cardinal Way" more than once.

"They are fundamentally sound," said Manuel, voicing one of his highest compliments.

Afternoon turned to night, and reality manifested itself in a listless, 4-1 Phillies loss. Manuel watched from his perch in the visitors dugout. In between innings, he removed his red hat and scratched his thinning white hair. His Phillies were once the standard, a characterization since forgotten.

One day will not decide how general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acts before the July 31 trade deadline. A city sways with the nightly results; the front office does not. The evidence for making decisions with an eye toward 2014 has always outweighed the alternative. St. Louis could seal that path with two more performances like Tuesday's.

The Cardinals struck with precision against 23-year-old Jonathan Pettibone. Four straight hits in the fourth inning created two runs.

Shelby Miller, 22, posted six zeroes for the home team. The Phillies cracked the Cardinals bullpen for one. That was all.

The out-of-town scoreboard again presented promising news. Both Atlanta and Washington lost. The National League East wallows in mediocrity. But that alone is not enough to inspire confidence. The Phillies must convince their general manager that more than a flicker of hope exists. If Amaro buys, it will not be a major move.

If he sells, the market favors the Phillies. The available talent is lackluster, and the demand is immense. Milwaukee traded a reliever it signed in April for one of Baltimore's better prospects. Matt Garza, a rental player, fetched a cadre of Texas prospects for the Cubs. Should Amaro open his roster for poaching, he will hold the best trade chips in a barren marketplace.

As Manuel watched St. Louis' batting practice, he made note of a glaring statistic. The Phillies have played three more games than the Cardinals. Still, entering Tuesday, St. Louis had scored 89 more runs than them. The Phillies are not the Cardinals, but if they expect to play in October, they must match their caliber.

Twelve pitches into the bottom of the first, St. Louis led. Pettibone permitted a leadoff single to Matt Carpenter. He advanced to third on a single and fielder's choice. Another groundout sent him home.

Pettibone was finished after five middling innings. He threw 89 pitches.

"They stress good patience at the plate," Manuel said of St. Louis, and the rookie Pettibone experienced it firsthand.

The leaky bullpen, the National League's worst in ERA, dimmed whatever faint chances for a comeback remained. In the seventh, Raul Valdes, recalled earlier in the day, allowed a flare to Carlos Beltran that Domonic Brown could not catch with a diving attempt. Beltran stopped at third. Justin De Fratus inherited him. He surrendered a run-scoring Allen Craig single.

Which team are these Phillies: The one that won five straight series or the one that has lost three straight games? Amaro will decide on more than that sample. Their weaknesses are plentiful. But every team in this division is flawed.

This was the 100th game of the season. The Phillies have played 262 since the start of 2012 and they are two games under .500. That, more than any loss or any win, will determine the fate of this group in the coming days. Tuesday was yet another slog toward irrelevancy.

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.


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