A day removed from a gut punch of a one-run loss, 2 days removed from a blowout win, and 3 weeks removed from a game when they scored a dozen runs against the Reds, six off starter Homer Bailey, the 28-year-old Reds righthander handcuffed the worst team in the National League.
Rookie David Buchanan (1-3) matched Bailey (7-3) for four innings but couldn't overcome a couple of fifth-inning hiccups as the Phillies fell, 4-1, yesterday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
The Phils have lost eight of their last nine games. They finished a weeklong road trip through Washington and Cincinnati at 1-5.
The trip began with Sandberg calling a closed-door meeting in an effort to wake his slumbering veteran team and ended with the Phillies' four games worse in the standings.
"It's a tough loss," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "[We have to] stay positive."
But dating back to May 5, the first of four straight losses to the Toronto Blue Jays, both in Philly and north of the border, the Phillies have lost 22 of their last 32 games. It would seem fairly difficult to remain upbeat at this stage of the season.
"I think the key to turn it around is everyone has to have the same mentality," Ruiz said. "Not one, two or three guys. And, as a team, we have to stay together and we have to believe we can turn around everything . . . We had some good games, like the first day here. It was exciting. We were pumped. We have to find a way to stay that way. We're going to lose some games, but at the same time, if we could put together the same mentality, a lot of good things could happen."
Instead, the bad things keep piling up.
Following their third straight series loss, the Phillies (25-36, .410) are a season-low 11 games under .500. They have the worst record in the National League.
Only one team in baseball has a lower winning percentage: the Tampa Bay Rays (24-40, .375).
During the last 5 weeks, when the Phillies have gone 10-22, four of the regular members of the everyday lineup have been unproductive at the same time.
Marlon Byrd is hitting .241 with 37 strikeouts in 31 games over that time span. Ryan Howard is hitting .220. Brown is batting .194. Even Jimmy Rollins, who is inching closer to Mike Schmidt's franchise hits record, is hitting only .221 in the last 5 weeks.
"It's about everybody picking each other up," Sandberg said of a lineup that has been cold for the majority of the season. "This is considered early in the season. It's about everybody chipping in and doing something each day."
When the Phillies take the field tomorrow, it will be June 10. It will be the 62nd game of the season.
The season is already more than a third of the way over. So, when isn't it early anymore?
"Well, we still haven't had a hot streak," Sandberg said. "I believe there is a hot streak in there. If we could put together 2 or 3 weeks or a month with a hot streak, we can chip away and get back."
But Sandberg, who preached urgency in his team meeting, knows better.
Yesterday, Buchanan, making his fourth big-league start in place of Cliff Lee, did his part to keep pace with Bailey early and to give his offense a chance to take control of the game. Buchanan retired nine of 10 batters from the end of the first inning through the fourth.
"Buchanan was pretty good with his fastball today and his slider," Sandberg said. "He probably had a couple of pitches he'd like to have back . . . But I thought he showed a pretty good fastball down in the zone and sliders down."
Those pitches came in the Reds' four-run fifth inning.
Todd Frazier led off with a single and Zack Cozart doubled two batters later to put two runners in scoring position with one out. Then Bailey, a career .164 hitter, jumped on an 0-1 curveball up in the zone.
The Reds took the lead on Bailey's two-run hit.
"The curveball was a little up," Ruiz said. "It's hard for us because we're thinking now that maybe it was the wrong pitch, you know, because of how everything is going right now. But he found a hole, he got a big hit."
The Phillies didn't muster anything resembling a rally in the five innings that followed. Bailey and closer Aroldis Chapman held them to one hit from the fifth through the ninth innings.
Yesterday marked the eighth time in their last 17 games that the Phillies managed to score just two runs or fewer.
"I believe in my team," said Ruiz, perhaps the lone voice of optimism in another eerily quiet postgame clubhouse. "We have some great players here . . . If we put everything together and believe, we can turn around everything . . . We've got to keep going."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21