WASHINGTON -- The time had come again for Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg to speak to his players.
He called a meeting before Tuesday's series opener against the Nationals at Nationals Park. It was short and sweet, maybe just a minute or two, but Sandberg said it was necessary. The Phillies have the worst record in the National League since May 4 at 9-17, which includes six shutout losses. They just finished a 4-7 homestand, which included their first no-hit loss since 1978 and four losses in five games to the Mets.
There have been fundamental lapses nearly every day as the losses have piled up and the team has slipped seven games below .500.
"It was a serious meeting," said Sandberg, who held a similar meeting last month at Citi Field. "And it was a sense of urgency right now. It's important right now."
But will it help?
"We're going to find out," Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd said. "Meetings don't get teams going. Players have to go out there and play. We've got to be ready."
The Phillies, who entered Tuesday at 24-31, need to get on a roll quickly. They cannot afford to fall much further below .500 with less than two months before the July 31 Trade Deadline. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on 94 WIP Tuesday morning that the Phillies are "getting closer" to a rebuilding effort with every loss.
"It doesn't concern me," Byrd said. "It means that we need to start winning. Gosh, you're talking about June and what are we, 6 1/2 out? At the All-Star break, if you're not around five you're not in a good position. It's hard to make up those games. By the time July hits we need to be within four games, striking and playing well at the same time. Ruben has to do his job and we make his job easier if we win. If we don't, it makes his job very tough, so we need to be that team where he's convinced we're going to make this run."
There has been scant evidence of that lately.
Since May 4, the Phillies are 10th in the National League in on-base percentage (.307), 11th in slugging percentage (.365), 12th in runs per game (3.77), 13th in batting average (.227) and 14th in ERA (4.12). Their 16 errors are tied for fifth in the league.
"That's why it's time right now," Sandberg said. "It's time right now to do something about it. It's about getting the job done, playing better, full games to allow us to have a chance to win the game. When you knock on the door numerous times, the odds are that you'll have a chance to win the game. It's important right now."
Sandberg spoke in generalities about ways the team can improve. He talked about executing during the game, wanting to be the guy in big situations, being ready to do the job, grinding it out, etc.
Bench coach Larry Bowa spoke much more candidly Tuesday on 97.5 The Fanatic. He said, "You have players in the big leagues that aren't playing like big leaguers," and, "When you wake up in the morning you should be angry and I hope they are angry. I'm angry and a coach shouldn't be angrier than the players right now, so I hope they're angry."
"I don't know about anger," Byrd said. "I know that we feel we're a better team than we've shown. I would hope guys would think the way that I do, the way that Chase [Utley] does, as far as we've got to figure out how to get better. Period. Whatever that is for you, you need to do it. Young guys, we need to put a better eye on them in making sure that the routine that they have going forward is something that's going to make them better. When you're young in the game, you're up here, you kind of watch people, you try to put stuff together. As a whole we need to get better as team, we need to help each other out."
Asked if he feels players are invested in the finished product or if some are simply content to collect their paycheck, Sandberg said, "I hope not. I hope not."
Time will tell if any of this makes a difference. The Phillies won their first two games after a team meeting May 9 in New York to pull within a game of .500. They had a chance to sweep the Mets with a victory May 11, but with Jonathan Papelbon telling Sandberg he was unavailable to pitch because of soreness, the bullpen blew a ninth-inning lead and lost the game in 11 innings.
The Phillies haven't been within a game of .500 since.
They need to get close to that mark soon or a fire sale could be just around the corner.
"On my end, I think it's too early yet for that," Sandberg said. "I'm waiting for a hot streak. We haven't had a hot streak yet. I'm waiting for more consistent production in all areas of the game to allow us to have a hot streak. That's been the mentality since we left Spring Training -- for everyone to step up and push."