The Phillies started Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, Sean O'Sullivan, and David Buchanan in four games - all losses - over a 48-hour span this past weekend. Their limited pitching depth was tested against a first-place team; it was not the reason Atlanta swept the Phillies.
"It's a tough spot," Ryan Howard said. "Having a series like this, it doesn't help."
The home team scored eight runs in four games, the latest recurrence of the three-year malaise that infected a once-powerful lineup. A 3-2 defeat Sunday by Atlanta sealed the Braves' first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since Sept. 24-27, 1964. The Braves called Milwaukee home then. And those Phillies were on their way to one of the franchise's harshest nightmares.
This summer's heartbreak is not as painful; the Phillies never had an advantage to squander. They are 10 games under .500 and hurtling toward months of irrelevance. History will show this team to be one of baseball's most expensive failures - the franchise-record payroll neared $190 million on opening day - and quick solutions are not evident.
There is nothing more for manager Ryne Sandberg and his flawed roster to say. The Phillies batted 3 for 32 with runners in scoring position this weekend. They are a .231-hitting team at home, where their record is 18-27.
"The time has been now for two or three weeks," Sandberg said. "No question about it. We had a good stretch there, we had a winning streak, and we weren't able to come home and continue."
The offensive misadventures were innumerable Sunday. Chase Utley lashed a single up the middle in the seventh to put runners on the corners with one out in a one-run game. The Citizens Bank Park fans feted Utley with a prolonged standing ovation to celebrate his reaching a round number with 1,500 career hits.
Howard, the next batter, smacked the third pitch at shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who had shifted to play right behind the second-base bag. He snared the chopper, stepped on second, and tossed to first for a smooth double play.
National League East teams tend to play a shift against Howard with the shortstop positioned in the center of the diamond.
"I hit a ball back up the middle and it bounces right to the guy for a double play," Howard said. "It just wasn't meant to be for us in the series."
Or this season, so far. Aaron Harang survived Sunday for seven innings. The veteran righthander allowed nine runs (eight earned) to the Phillies 12 days earlier. This time, he scattered 11 hits. The Phillies scored two or fewer runs with 13 or more hits in a game for the first time since 2001.
Marlon Byrd provided the runs Sunday. He bashed two solo homers to raise his team-leading total to 15. That, at least, should attract contending teams in need of power in a run-starved game.
When asked whether his team had time to convince upper management that this season is worth salvaging, Sandberg skirted the question.
"On our end, we talk about continuing to grind and try to make something happen, turn it around, do things better to allow us to do that," Sandberg said. "Hitting in the clutch and hitting with men on base is a component that we have to get better at. The talk on our end is to grind it and play hard."
Buchanan walked five in five innings. He allowed a two-out single to Harang, a career .090 hitter, in the second inning. B.J. Upton followed with a two-run triple to deep center that a twisting Ben Revere attempted to catch over his shoulder. He crashed into the green wall without the ball.
The Phillies, down to their last out, lashed a pair of consecutive Craig Kimbrel fastballs for singles. Utley batted with the tying run 90 feet from home. He flied to right, and the ballpark emptied.
BY THE NUMBERS
Phillies batting average (3 for 32) with runners in scoring position in this series.
Years since the Braves last swept the Phillies in a four-game set.
Runs scored by the Phillies in the four losses.
Career hits by Chase Utley.