All that talk. All that anticipation. All that excitement. But the Phillies, who preached the importance of a fast start since last season ended, are 0-3 after yesterday's 8-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

So far, the team to beat has been, well, the team to beat.

"We'll be OK," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's just a matter of us putting a good game together. There's a lot of time left in April. We've lost three games here, but at the same time we've got to go win some."

OK, it is early.

But 0-3 hardly is something to dismiss, even with 159 games to play. In fact, it can take a lot of time to recover from such a start.

The Phillies finished their last three Aprils under .500. They started 1-6 in 2006 to finish 10-14, they started 1-4 in 2005 to finish 10-14, and they started 1-6 in 2004 to finish 10-11.

It took them until May 5 last season to get above .500. It took them until June 4, 2005, to get above .500, and it took them until May 9, 2004, to get above .500.

That's a lot of clawing and scratching and fighting to be the team the Phillies insist they can be. They will try to turn things around starting tonight in a three-game series against the Florida Marlins in Miami.

The Phillies wasted fine performances from Brett Myers and Cole Hamels in the first two games of this series. But righthander Adam Eaton, who signed a three-year, $24.5 million contract to replace lefthander Randy Wolf in the rotation, did not follow suit. In 42/3 innings, he allowed seven hits, eight runs (seven earned), four walks and one home run. He struck out three.

Eaton actually pitched well through four innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run. He allowed two runs in the first, but neither should have scored. With a runner on first and one out, Ryan Howard air-mailed a ball into left field on a throw to second, erasing a potential double play. Brian McCann followed with a two-run single, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.

Eaton issued a one-out walk to pitcher Chuck James in the fifth, which set the derailment in motion.

Kelly Johnson smacked a two-run homer to right on an 0-2 curveball to make it 4-1. Chipper Jones hit a two-out single to left, and Andruw Jones doubled to center to make it 5-1. Eaton intentionally walked McCann, but Jeff Francoeur singled to right to score Jones and put runners at the corners.

Joe Bisenius replaced Eaton to make his big-league debut, but Scott Thorman hit a two-run double to right to make it 8-1.

It was an ugly series all around. Manuel had said throughout spring training that there's a difference between being ready to start the season and being ready to win once the season starts.

Were the Phillies ready to win?

"I think we're a team that's ready to win," centerfielder Aaron Rowand said. "We just need to be a little bit better. Today was the first game that wasn't close. You flip a coin and we could be going out of here 2-1 right now."

But they're not. There are reasons for that. The bullpen took the losses in the first two games. The Phillies were 3 for 17 (.176) with runners in scoring position yesterday, and 5 for 28 (.179) for the series.

Howard went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position yesterday, and 0 for 6 in the series. He left six runners in scoring position and nine runners on base overall.

"My swing isn't where I want it to be," Howard said.

"Mentally, I think he's OK," Manuel said. "I think he's trying too hard. He's pulling off the ball. That's the biggest thing. He'll be OK. He hits a couple balls hard and he'll be fine. He's got to slow down and stay on the ball."

Fans let the Phillies feel their disgust, even when booing didn't fit the situation. Leftfielder Pat Burrell went 2 for 4 with two doubles and an RBI yesterday and hit .364 in the series, but he was booed throughout the week.

"If you play good, the fans are going to like you and they're going to pull for you," Manuel said. ". . . They expect us to play good and win. We came out of spring training and winter with the expectations, and I guess they want to see them. And they will see them. It's just a matter of time."

See a slideshow from the game at http://go.philly.com/photos.

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Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki
at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.