MIAMI - Even in a season such as this, the lineup that bench coach Pete Mackanin tacked to the wall on Wednesday morning required a second look. With Ryan Howard and Juan Pierre both getting the day off against veteran lefty Mark Buehrle, the Phillies started four players who entered the day with more games played at Triple A than the majors this season: in leftfield, Hector Luna (57 games at Lehigh Valley, 26 in Philadelphia); at third base, Kevin Frandsen (99 vs. 15); at catcher, Erik Kratz (37 vs. 21); and in rightfield, Domonic Brown (60 vs. 14).
Combined, the eight regulars in the lineup were hitting .245 with a .307 on-base percentage, .411 slugging percentage and 48 home runs. The results were what you might have expected: eight base runners, one extra-base hit, and two at-bats with runners in scoring position, all of it coming to result in a 9-2 loss to the Marlins that prevented a series sweep.
The most disappointing aspect of the game, at least from the perspective of Charlie Manuel and the rest of the organization's talent evaluators, was the six-run eighth inning allowed by the bullpen. The manager has said several times that one of his goals during the remainder of the season is to get a good look at some of his younger relievers in late-and-close situations, which is what the Phillies had after Roy Halladay held the Marlins to three runs on six hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
Righthander B.J. Rosenberg had the first opportunity, but allowed all three batters he faced to reach base, walking Jose Reyes and then giving up singles to Carlos Lee and Giancarlo Stanton. After Raul Valdes got Greg Dobbs to fly out, Manuel called for an intentional walk to Donovan Solano and then called on Michael Schwimer to record the last two outs of the inning. The 26-year-old righthander struck out John Buck, but allowed a two-run single to Austin Kearns, a two-run double to Bryan Petersen, and an RBI single to Gorkys Hernandez before getting Reyes to ground out to end the frame.
"We've got 46, 45 games left," Manuel said. "We should get a real good read on the guys that are playing right now and our pitchers. That's a part of playing them and getting them big-league experience. They'll be in big-league games, getting big-league experience and plus we're getting a look at them."
The Phillies' only runs came by way of Ty Wigginton, who was making his second start of the month and his first since Aug. 2. The veteran infielder hit a solo home run to lead off the fifth inning. In the sixth, he knocked a single into leftfield to score Frandsen and tie the game, 2-2. But the Marlins retook the lead in the bottom half of the frame on a two-out home run by Dobbs, who also had an RBI single against his former team.
The afternoon highlighted the reason you won't hear many people in the organization comparing themselves to the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, whose deficit in the wild-card race on Aug. 25 was a half-game larger than the 10-game hole the Phillies carried into Wednesday. While the Phillies entered the day having won nine of 14 games since the July 31 trades that sent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the Giants, they averaged just three runs per game during that stretch, hitting .231 with a .302 on-base percentage as a team.
Even in one of their more successful stretches of the season, the Phillies have not looked like a team capable of doing anything more than keeping its head above water during a particularly hot stretch of pitching. Even before Wedneday's loss, they would have had to equal their best 46-game stretch from a year ago just to finish at 88 wins.
On Thursday, the Phillies start a four-game series against the Brewers. Milwaukee included, they have 23 games remaining against teams with losing records. But even if they go 23-0 against those teams, they would still need to go 11-11 against the winning teams they will face in order to finish with 88 wins. As of Thursday, they are 25-35 against such teams. Overall, they are 54-63.