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Missing piece dooms Phils again vs. Braves

Missing piece dooms Phils again vs. Braves

PHILADELPHIA -- There is something missing in the Phillies' clubhouse, a critical ingredient that has helped them win one World Series, two consecutive National League pennants and three consecutive NL East titles.

Call it swagger.

Call it cockiness.

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"That little edge," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday, following a 7-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park that dropped the Phillies six games behind the Braves in the NL East. "We've got to get that edge. It's that push. It's the No. 1 priority: winning the game and having fun doing it, because we want to do it, not because you have to. When you get into have-to games, more than likely, you're going to fail."

The Phillies have failed quite a bit lately. They have lost seven of their past 10 games, which is troubling because it has coincided with Chase Utley's thumb injury.

Utley will miss approximately eight weeks. The Phillies hope to be in contention upon his return, but they have not been this far out of first place since they were 6 1/2 games behind the New York Mets on Sept. 13, 2007. That was near the beginning of their historic comeback, when the Phillies overcame a seven-game deficit with 17 games to play en route to their first NL East title since 1993.

But just because the Phillies did it once does not mean they will do it again. The 2010 Braves and Mets look more formidable than the '07 and '08 Mets, who blew September leads to the Phillies.

"I hear people say we're a second-half team," Manuel said. "I'm not saying we're not, but we don't want to get too far behind. We're getting real close to the second half. If we're a second-half team, we probably should start kicking it in gear a little bit."

The Phillies were 229-217 (.513) before the All-Star break from 2005-09, which ranked 11th in baseball. They were 218-146 (.599) after the break, which ranked third in baseball and first in the NL.

The Phillies have holes to fill if they expect another strong finish. They have seven players on the disabled list -- Utley, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson, J.A. Happ, Chad Durbin and Antonio Bastardo -- which creates the biggest holes. They could have everybody other than Utley back before the end of the month, which should help.

But Manuel still sees deficiencies.

The Phillies could use a bat while Utley and Polanco are out, but Manuel wants pitching.

Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer allowed seven runs in 5 1/3 innings Wednesday. He was 6-5 with a 3.48 ERA in his previous 11 starts. He allowed a leadoff homer to Martin Prado, then retired 16 of the next 17 batters he faced until he allowed six runs in the sixth to give the Braves a 7-3 led.

"He got a couple of pitches up that we hit," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He started off the game, even though the first hitter hit a home run, he had that sinker and cutter going.  He had everything going.  I didn't know if we were going to hit him or not.  He got a couple of pitches elevated and we hit them."

Ryan Howard had given the Phillies a 3-1 lead with a two-run homer to left in the fifth. Shane Victorino hit a solo homer to right in the seventh to make it 7-4 and the Phillies added a run in the eighth to make it 7-5, but they could not break through.

It has been the story much of the season.

They pitch, they can't hit. They hit, they can't pitch.

But the common ingredient is the missing edge.

"We don't quite have the swagger that we once had," Moyer said. "I don't think it was a cocky swagger. It was just a swagger. And I think it was carried by all. We have some new faces in here. That's not the reason, but as teams change, I think it's the responsibility of those who remain to try to continue that swagger in the way that we play. The people that come in, I think they get it quickly. We just haven't found a way yet to get running on all cylinders."

Manuel said a couple times that the game needs to be the No. 1 priority, indicating that the focus in the clubhouse has shifted elsewhere.

"The game is the No. 1 priority," Manuel said. "When we've won games, especially the last two years, I never heard anybody talk about losing. The players now, they don't bring up losing a lot, but every now and then, you hear it. A lot of times, we wouldn't even talk about winning. You know why? Because we expected to win and we wanted to win, and that was our main goal when we came to the ballpark. Our guys were that dedicated. We try. We might be trying a little too hard right now. That little push? That little spark that you've got? That little swagger? Just enough cockiness to make you good? Something is missing there. Can we get it back? Yeah."

But can they get it back in time to make a difference?

"We can still win this," Manuel said. "And I plan on us winning."

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

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