Time of turmoil for Phillies

Posted: June 05, 2014

WASHINGTON - After the fourth loss in five games, and with a 2-hour train ride standing between the beaten-up team and a much-needed night of rest, the only sounds in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park were the zippers closing as bags were packed for the trip.

But then, in the distance, in the hallway between the clubhouse and the dugout, an unknown person let out a four-letter expletive in anger. He repeated it a few seconds later.

And then the silence returned on Monday night.

With the Phillies' season careening down an ugly road - they've lost 19 of their 31 games at home and entered yesterday with the fifth-worst record in baseball - manager Ryne Sandberg called his players together for a meeting before they took the field for pregame batting practice at Nationals Park.

Afterward, Sandberg termed the meeting "serious," saying there was a "sense of urgency" after losing nine of 13 games to fall to a season-high seven games under .500. In 2013, when they would go on to lose 89 games, the Phillies didn't fall to seven games under until July 28.

"I thought it was time to regroup and remind the guys on execution and game situations, to let them know I thought that was important," Sandberg said. "You have to grind it out to get the job done."

Earlier in the day, his top lieutenant aired out his own frustrations with the team in an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic. Bench coach Larry Bowa told the radio station that the Phillies have "players playing in the big leagues who aren't playing like big-leaguers."

"As far as fundamentals . . . we've worked on bunting and worked on pitching fundamentals and done extra hitting, so it's not lack of time," Bowa said. "Ben Revere was out there yesterday bunting 50 balls and the pitchers are bunting every day. The only thing you can't regulate is baserunning because you can't simulate a game at 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. A lot of this has to do with instincts, and if you don't have good baseball instincts - you can't teach instincts.

"If you don't have them by the time you reach the big leagues, you're not going to get it. I don't care how much you practice if you don't have instincts, and there are some people right now who are showing they don't have the instincts that we thought they had."

Unlike Sandberg, Bowa wasn't shy in singling out players. He said Roberto Hernandez had to pitch deeper in games and wondered how Domonic Brown could show up to the ballpark "upbeat" every day.

Brown entered play last night with a .576 OPS, which ranked 171st out of 175 qualifying hitters in baseball.

"I don't know how he does that, because if it was me, I'd be going nuts right now," Bowa said of Brown's positive disposition. "I think the big thing you have to be concerned about is, take a 5-, 6-week period out of the equation [last year] and the numbers aren't very good."

With the exception of the core players - namely Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz and perhaps Ryan Howard - the numbers haven't been very good for the team in general.

The Phillies' 216 runs scored entering last night was the fifth-lowest total in baseball. Their minus-41 run differential - 257 runs allowed, 216 runs scored - was the third-highest.

The Phillies had lost 12 of 19 games in the last 3 weeks. They were shut out in four of those games - one was a no-hitter - and they scored two runs or fewer in seven of those 19 games.

Even when they have gotten on base, the Phils have often run into outs with bad baserunning, failed to move runners over because of poor execution, or stranded runners in scoring position.

Yesterday marked the second time in 26 days that Sandberg had to call a meeting to remind his players of basic baseball principles. The first-year manager also called a meeting on May 9 in New York following four straight losses to Toronto.

Losing games is one thing. Having to call a team together twice in less than a month, to go over the same agenda, would seem to be another, more troubling issue.

"It was necessary," Sandberg said. "Necessary. The fact of the matter is, with all things said, we did have an opportunity to win two more games than we did with the extra innings in our last-at-bat scenario [against the Mets during the weekend]. Coming up big and somebody being the guy, multiple guys in a situation, whether it's doing the little things to help the team or knowing the situation and having the right approach and getting the job done. That's what we need more of."

Through the extended bouts of ineffective hitting, ordinary pitching, inconsistent defense and overall poor decision-making on the field, Sandberg has called a couple of meetings but has managed to keep his emotions on an even keel.

With two-thirds of the season remaining, Sandberg is on a mission to see his team improve in those areas before it sinks further in the standings. The last-place Phillies entered play last night 6 1/2 games behind the Atlanta in the National League East.

"It's time right now to do something about it," Sandberg said. "It's about getting the job done, playing better, full games to allow us to have a chance to win the game. When you knock on the door numerous times, the odds are that you'll have a chance to win the game. It's important right now.

"It's about 25 guys contributing, that was the whole meeting, everybody be ready to do your job. They're here for a reason, to do their job. For me, the effort and the hustle and pregame [work] and all of that has been constant.

"It's about recognizing a game situation and having the right approach and grinding it out to do the job in that situation, whether it's for your teammate or your team, to get the job done."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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