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Reeling Phillies lose again to red-hot Braves
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Braves vs. Phillies is really not a fair fight these days.

The Braves are the hottest team in baseball, cruising toward a division title.

The Phillies are the coldest team in baseball, stumbling toward fourth place in the NL East. (That could come in a hurry as they are just percentage points ahead of the New York Mets.)

The Braves won their ninth straight game Saturday night when they hung a 5-4 loss on the Phillies in 12 innings at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies are 2-12 since the All-Star break and they have lost 12 of their last 13 games.

They are cold. And at 50-60, they are bad.

The Braves are hot. And at 66-45, they are good.

Two teams headed in opposite directions. As we said, it’s really not a fair fight. And when a game evolves into a battle of bullpens -- call the cops, it’s really an unfair matchup.

But a funny thing happened Saturday. The Phillies, with their 28th ranked bullpen, hung right with the Braves and their bullpen, which entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the majors with a 2.53 ERA.

Phillies relievers picked up 6 2/3 scoreless innings before things came unraveled in the 12th and the Braves pushed across the winning run without the benefit of a hit. Lefty Jake Diekman, who had thrown a scoreless 11th, walked three -- one intentionally -- in the 12th and the Braves’ Dan Uggla, batting with the bases loaded and one out, hustled out a potential double-play ball to push home the go-ahead run.

The Phils got the potential tying run to second base with two outs in the bottom of the inning, but Craig Kimbrel, the anchor of the majors’ best bullpen, struck out Laynce Nix for his NL-best 33rd save.

On the bright side, the bullpen was very good for a significant stretch. Zach Miner, pitching in the majors for the first time since 2009, got it going with 2 2/3 scoreless innings (see story). Luis Garcia, Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo also rang up scoreless frames. Papelbon was booed when he came in the game in the ninth but left to cheers. His fastball was consistently 93 mph, a good sign after a recent dip.

The Braves’ bullpen was not charged with a run in 5 2/3 innings.

The Phils’ ‘pen went to work early because starter John Lannan did not make it through the fifth inning. Lannan allowed four runs, only two of which were earned.

Lannan pitched on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. He was forced to do so because the Phillies wanted to give Cliff Lee and extra day to make sure he was ready to come back from a stiff neck. Lee will return to the mound Sunday night in the series finale against the Braves. It will be his first start in two weeks.

With Jonathan Pettibone on the disabled list, the Phillies’ rotation is now Lannan, Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels and Ethan Martin. Kendrick, Hamels and Martin will go against the Chicago Cubs, who come to town for a three-game series on Tuesday night.

The Phillies tied the game on a double by Jimmy Rollins in the seventh inning. After that, they got just one hit.

The Phillies have now lost five straight series. They have always been a good second half team under Charlie Manuel. Not now.

“We’re having a hard time getting going,” Manuel said. “We’re having a hard time playing good enough or doing enough to win. That’s kind of what I see. We’re playing the game out and staying with it. We’re just getting beat.”

Where will this stop?

“I think that’s up to us,” Manuel said. “We have to play hard and play every day. I think everyone on our team has something to play for.”

According to Delmon Young, the effort is there.

“We come in here trying to win every day,” he said. “We’re professional athletes. It’s baseball. When you’re going good, good things happen, and when you’re going bad, they don’t happen.”

The Phillies are going bad. Real bad. Atlanta goes for the sweep Sunday night.