Stranding room only

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley flies out with the tying and winning runs in scoring position, ending the game.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley flies out with the tying and winning runs in scoring position, ending the game.
Posted: July 01, 2014

ON 32 occasions in South Philly this weekend, a Phillies player stood in the batter's box with a runner on second or third base. Just three of those times over a four-game span did the player record a base hit.

Despite 13 hits and two home runs, the Phillies' bats yesterday once again failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position. It resulted in a fourth consecutive loss, their eighth in 10 games. A 3-2 Braves' victory at Citizens Bank Park marked the first time the Phillies (36-46) were swept in a four-game series since June 4-7, 2012, against the visiting Dodgers.

An 0-for-7 blemish with runners in scoring position was the culprit in the series finale. In five of the last six innings, two hitters reached base only to find themselves stranded. In all, 10 men were left on base.

"The last week or so that's what's been lacking, a big hit, whether it's an extra-base hit driving in a couple runs or a popped home run with a couple guys on," manager Ryne Sandberg said.

"That's what made us successful on the past road trip, putting up some numbers early in the game, coming up with clutch hits, and that's what we've lacked this homestand."

The nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader marked the official halfway point of the Phillies' season. Their .444 winning percentage entering yesterday was the franchise's worst through 81 games since 1997. After yesterday, they've scored three runs or less in 42 of 82 games. A mere seven of those have resulted in wins.

This was the first time the Braves swept the Phillies in a four-game series since 1997, a season in which Atlanta was coming off a World Series appearance. To find the last time the Braves swept a four-game series in Philadelphia, you'd have to trace all the way back to during the collapse of 1964, Sept. 24-27 at Connie Mack Stadium, when the Braves still belonged to Milwaukee.

While the Braves (44-38) remain in first place, yesterday's loss dropped the Phillies back to 10 games under .500, a mark they hit three times in early June. Twenty six games remain until the July 31 trade deadline.

"The time has been now for 2 or 3 weeks. No question about it," Sandberg said. "We had a good stretch there, we had a winning streak, and we weren't able to come home and continue. But that's what we need now, to go on the road after an off day, where we've played well, and hopefully pick it up and have a road trip like we did on the last."

Marlon Byrd, whose righthanded outfield bat could surely look attractive to a contending team, smacked two solo homers to centerfield. The second, caught in the bullpen by an excited Justin De Fratus, was Byrd's team-leading 15th home run. It was the team's first individual multihome run performance in exactly one calendar year.

Pitching kept the Phillies in the game. The Braves scored their three runs over the first four innings, all off starter David Buchanan (4-4), whose personal three-game winning streak was snapped. B.J. Upton, who entered the afternoon with a .204 batting average, smoked a two-run triple to centerfield in the second inning. Two innings later, Gerald Laird doubled home Tommy La Stella for what proved to be the winning run.

De Fratus, Jake Diekman and Jonathan Papelbon combined to toss fours shutout innings of relief.

Aaron Harang, the Braves' 36-year-old righthander whom the Phillies recently tagged with 13 hits and eight earned runs, surrendered 11 hits but lasted seven innings. He was just the third pitcher this season to win despite allowing that many hits. Cliff Lee, as you might remember from Opening Day in Texas, is one of the others.

"It didn't go our way. Having a situation [in the seventh inning] with first and third, went out and got the tying run up and then the ball just didn't bounce our way," said Ryan Howard, whose doubleplay ball ended that threat. "I hit a ball back up the middle and it bounces right to the guy and [they] turned a doubleplay. It just wasn't meant to be for us for the series."

The game ended when Chase Utley flew out with runners at second and third and two outs.

"On our end we talk about continuing to grind and try to make something happen, turn it around, do things better to allow us to do that," Sandberg said. "Hitting in the clutch and hitting with men on base is a component that we have to get better at. The talk on our end is to grind it and play hard."

The Phillies, 18-27 at Citizens Bank Park, are off today before opening a 10-game road trip in Miami (39-43) tomorrow. They then play three against the Pirates (42-40) before visiting the National League leading Brewers (51-33) for four games.

All the while, they are mired in a hole that appears too large to climb out of.

"It's a tough spot to be in," Howard said. "Having a series like this doesn't help. But that's the thing about baseball, is you've got to get ready for the next day. Try to take this off day, try and get this all out of the system and try and get back right on Tuesday."


On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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