Unable to stop Braves, Phils fall out of first

Unable to stop Braves, Phils fall out of first

ATLANTA -- Shane Victorino looked positively dejected as he sank deep into a black couch in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse Monday at Turner Field.

Just a few feet away, Chase Utley propped up his head with his left arm as he hunched over a laptop to watch video from the Phillies' 9-3 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. Raul Ibanez studied video on the laptop next to him. The rest of the Phils moved quietly through the clubhouse.

Philadelphia has seen too many losses and scored too few runs to enjoy any idle chitchat in the past two weeks -- the latest loss knocking the club from first place in the National League East for the first time since May 1.

"Frustrated? Yes. We're all frustrated, but we're not down," Ibanez said.

The Phillies did something in the seventh inning Monday that typically is not worth noting, but is considering the circumstances. They scored three runs. They scored three runs on consecutive doubles from Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz, Wilson Valdez and Ben Francisco to make it 6-3. It was the first time they had scored more than one run in an inning since scoring three runs in the ninth inning May 23 against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.

That was eight days ago.

That was the last inning the Phils hit a home run, too. They have gone seven consecutive games without a home run, a stretch of 63 innings. It is their longest stretch without a home run since July 19-26, 1999, when they went 73 consecutive innings without a homer. That team had four players with 20 or more home runs: Mike Lieberthal (31), Scott Rolen (26), Rico Brogna (24) and Bobby Abreu (20).

These Phillies are much more talented, although they are playing without Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco because of injuries. Rollins, who is out with a strained right calf, could be back as early as Sunday. Polanco received a cortisone injection in his left elbow Monday in Philadelphia. He will rejoin the team Tuesday, but it is unknown when he will play.

But the Phils still have Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Victorino -- although manager Charlie Manuel sat Werth, who is in a 0-for-19 slump.

"They always concern me," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "They've got too good of players to be going through the funk that they're going through. You know at some point, they're going to break out of it. You just hope it's not against you."

That is what the Phillies keep telling themselves: It won't last forever.

It just seems like it has.

The Phils have lost seven of their past nine games, in which they have been shut out five times. They have hit .187 with a .264 on-base percentage, a .257 slugging percentage and just one home run -- Ross Gload's drive against Ramon Ramirez on May 23.

The Phillies had a season-high five-game lead in the NL East following a 12-2 victory over the Pirates on May 17. They had the second-best offense in baseball at the time, averaging 5.73 runs per game. Only the Yankees (5.76) had averaged more.

But entering Monday, Philadelphia ranked 12th, averaging 4.71 runs per game.

That is the thing about this slump. It started before Daisuke Matsuzaka almost threw a no-hitter against the Phillies on May 22. The Phils scored just one run each against the Pirates on May 18 and the Cubs on May 19 before scoring 10 runs in victories against the Cubs and Red Sox on May 20 and 21, respectively.

"We seem to go through down periods the last couple years at the end of May and Interleague in June," said Brad Lidge, who pitched a scoreless eighth in his first game back from the disabled list. "We always come out of it with fuel. We come out on the other side really doing well. Right now, it's just a matter of getting through it. I know guys aren't happy right now. Nobody is happy right now. We always get to the other side of it. It just seems more extreme this year."

Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton allowed six runs in six innings, although he didn't get much help from his defense. Gload dropped a fly ball in the first that led to a run. Howard missed a ground ball in the third that led to a couple of runs.

Those errors would have been bigger, but with the offense not scoring more than three runs in a game since May 21, there are bigger issues.

"It seems like everything that can go wrong does," Blanton said. "Both sides of the line, at the plate and on the field. We know we're a good team. We know what we're capable of. It's just a matter of showing up every day at the field and wiping off the day before."

But forgetting the day before gets tougher and tougher as the days pile up.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.