THE GOOD vibes from a five-game winning streak against first-place teams dissipated in less than 24 hours. The bats fell quiet once again, at least in timely situations, and the 2014 version of the Phillies entered the All-Star break with a performance emulative of much of the season's previous 94 games.
Despite a franchise-record payroll, the Phillies yesterday reached the unofficial halfway point of the season 11 games under .500 and 10 games out of first place. A 10-3 drubbing at the hands of the NL East-leading Nationals dropped them to 42-53, only six teams in baseball owning a worse winning percentage.
"I don't think that's what you set out for during spring training," said Chase Utley, the Phillies' lone representative in tomorrow night's All-Star Game in Minneapolis. "But at this point all we can try to do is continue to try to get better, and that's the name of the game."
The Phillies are scoring just 3.86 runs per game, their 367 runs scored tying last year's mark through 95 games for the team's worst since 1991. Their recent winning streak saved this from being their worst first half since the dismal 1997 season, as their .442 winning percentage at the break edges out their .425 mark of two seasons ago.
Yesterday marked the 49th occasion they scored three runs or less in a game this season. Just eight of those occurrences have resulted in victories. Yesterday's performance yielded only five hits and just once did they come in the same inning. A day removed from hitting 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position in a 10-inning loss, the Phillies were 1-for-12 in such situations.
Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg said the lack of offensive production this season has been surprising.
"When we've had our good series and played our good games, we had offensive punch in there but it would turn overnight and turn cold," he said. "That's something, consistent offense and key hits, that'll be needed in the remainder of games."
Another familiar trend emerged yesterday, as Kyle Kendrick's mystifying first-inning struggles continued via two singles and a three-run home run from former Phillie Jayson Werth. Through 19 starts, Kendrick's ERA in the first innings of games is a baffling and major league-worst 11.37. In innings two through nine, Kendrick (4-9) owns a 3.63 ERA.
Kendrick, who enters the break with a season ERA of 4.62, bounced back from Werth's home run by retiring 14 consecutive Nationals. The veteran righthander walked off the mound with two outs in the sixth inning having surrendered five earned runs on five hits. He said after the game he felt good on the mound overall and it's just a matter of throwing quality pitches in the first inning.
"It's hard to pinpoint," Sandberg said. "It's been addressed and talked about. He's experimented with things. He gets away from his fastball and gets into the secondary pitches . . . It's a tough start right off the bat when the first time up, they get three."
Regardless, the Phillies' offense couldn't string anything together against Tanner Roark (8-6). Cody Asche was the lone Phillie to produce multiple hits, doubling in the fifth and ninth innings, the latter of which drove in a run. Utley, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd combined to go 0-for-9, though Howard did score a run and drive in another.
The bullpen didn't have its best day, either. Mario Hollands and Justin De Fratus combined to surrender five earned runs on seven hits in just 2 2/3 innings.
Roark, a righthander the Phillies lit up for seven runs back on May 3, tossed seven innings, surrendering just the one earned run on four hits to snap a personal two-game losing streak. The Nationals produced 12 hits, three coming from the bat of Anthony Rendon. The red-hot Werth drove in four runs.
"I don't think we're going to look at the last two games as a whole. It's what we've done the past seven games," Asche said. "I think there's a good feeling with the team that if we play good baseball like we have the last seven games that we can make a run at things."
The Phillies (except for Utley) are off until Friday, when they open a three-game series in Atlanta. Of their 21 series left in the regular season, 12 are against teams with better than .500 records.
Only 13 games remain before the July 31 trade deadline. It would take a truly shocking run, a prolonged caliber of play we have not seen this season, to reach even .500 by then. The Nationals (51-42) and Braves (52-43) are each nine games above .500.
Just to finish the season at .500, the Phillies need a 39-28 second half.
"I think we can play better than we have," Utley said. "We've shown some glimpses of it here and there. But we've got to continue to grind and continue to put out that effort every day."
On Twitter: @jakemkaplan