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Phils swept by Braves; Manuel at loss for words
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On the night the Phillies honored the 1993 National League championship club, it makes one wonder what those guys would have done if they were in a stretch like the current team.

Chances are it would not have been too pleasant to be around Lenny Dykstra or Darren Daulton during a stretch in which they lost 13 out of 14 games and scored just 34 runs. If John Kruk or Curt Schilling were on a team that batted just .198 in 14 games in which the team went from challenging in the NL East to trying to stay out of the cellar, the clubhouse would have been miserable.

So after the 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday night in front of a national television audience (see Instant Replay), manager Charlie Manuel and losing pitcher Cliff Lee wondered where the fire was.

Could it be that at a season-worst 11 games under .500 and 16½ games out of first place, the Phillies are packing it in? The way the team swung the bats in scratching out just four hits in a three-run game that felt like a rout was maddening to watch.

If two hits in six innings against lefty Alex Wood wasn’t bad enough, the Phillies’ lone rally was rendered moot when John Mayberry Jr. was picked off second base with two outs.

First and second with no outs and the inning ends with a player getting picked off second?

Things have gotten so bad with the Phillies that Manuel is at a loss for words.

“I didn’t say anything to the team yet,” Manuel said. “You know what? I will say something to them. At the moment, I don’t know what to say.”

Maybe Manuel needs to sleep on it in order to figure out the right words to use at this point. That assumes he can sleep after watching his team implode over the past two weeks.

Sunday’s loss to the Braves was the Phillies’ fifth in a row and they are starting to blend together. A season-long nine-game homestand is off to a 1-5 start directly on the heels of a 1-8 road trip after the All-Star break.

Sleep? How can the manager do anything aside from rearrange the furniture in his office by force?

“It’s hard not to go that way, but if you look and think, we’ve got kind of a different kind of team. We’ve got guys that are young and we’re trying to play them and get them experience,” Manuel said. “Then you’ve got some veterans and then we’ve got in-between guys. We’ve got a lot of guys that we’ve picked up and we take a chance on and hopefully they become good players.

"There’s different guys on our team. The way you talk to them at times definitely plays a part in who they are and things. You can scare some guys that are definitely new and trying. If you keep having meetings after meetings, the guys that aren’t used to winning, they can go the other way on you. You know why? Because that’s what they’re used to doing.”

Maybe it’s too late to get some different players on the roster. With injuries to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Mike Adams and Dom Brown, the Phillies have played like an incomplete team. But with Brown due back in the lineup in the next few days, perhaps some changes will be made.

Lee said the Phillies need some “drive and spark” in order to get back on track. According to him, that's the recipe for success at any level.

“There’s not much you can find that’s good about the way we’ve played over the past couple weeks,” Lee said. “It’s pretty frustrating losing. We don’t expect to play the way we have. Nobody feels good about it that I know of."

Does the Phillies' front office need to see more from certain players when the season has taken a sharp turn south? Is it time to start planning for the future? Can Brown’s return coupled with a day off bring about some changes?

For a team that has scored one or fewer runs in six of the last 14 games, how can an inning end with a guy getting picked off second base? Especially when the runners got on base with an error and a walk with no outs?

“You’ll have to talk to him about that because I can’t explain to you how the guy can be holding him on, how he can have a short lead, he doesn’t have what you call a lead at all and he gets picked off,” Manuel said. “I’m not throwing him under any bus or nothing like that. That’s what I saw.”

Yes, it’s been tough to watch for Manuel, too.

“Real tough,” Manuel said. “We squared up, what, three balls? Four balls? In nine innings? We had all our right-handed hitters in there. We definitely have to stop this somewhere.”

Lee, who pitched for the first time in two weeks, struggled with his command early and needed 95 pitches to get through five innings. That said, he did show flashes toward the end of his outing, racking up eight strikeouts despite giving up four runs (three earned) to fall to 10-5.

Lee actually walked more Braves hitters on Sunday (two) than he had in his last 44 1/3 innings against them. And is it a surprise that the first hitter of the game walked and scored?

Meanwhile, the Phillies' offense got two hits off Wood in six innings and two more off a pair of relievers. Rookie Darin Ruf had half of the team’s hits while veterans Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young and Delmon Young went 1 for 15 with six strikeouts.

Delmon Young had four of those strikeouts all by himself.

“I think they’ve got to show more hunger when they’re hitting,” Manuel said. “Every guy in our lineup can square up one two or balls a night, sometimes they can square up three or four balls. And that’s how you get one or two hits and have a batting average. I don’t see no really ‘getting after’ those at-bats. We look like we take it very casual. Like it’s, ‘We’ll get ‘em next time.’

“No, that’s not good enough. That’s what I see with our offense. We’re very inconsistent at times. I feel like there’s a situation on our team where we definitely get out-talented.”

The Cubs arrive Tuesday night to kick off a three-game series and close out the homestand. Kyle Kendrick (9-8, 4.29) takes on righty Edwin Jackson (7-11, 4.65) in the opener.