LOS ANGELES - After holding the Padres to three runs in a three-game sweep over the weekend, the Phillies bused north up Interstate 5 hoping their offense would meet up with them somewhere along the way.
Given the strong pitching they have enjoyed recently - heading into last night's series opener against the Dodgers, the Phillies had a 2.93 ERA since Aug. 1 - the only thing standing in the way of a scorching September might be the various offensive struggles of their star-laden lineup.
After being one-hit by the Dodgers last night:
* Shane Victorino hasn't homered in 28 games, his longest stretch of the year. On July 16, he hit a solo home run off lefty Ted Lilly in the fourth inning of the Phillies' 4-3 loss to the Cubs, giving him a new career high of 15. Since then, he has gone 117 plate appearances without a home run. He got the lone hit in last night's 3-0 loss to the Dodgers.
* Chase Utley is 9-for-49 (.184) with no home runs and two doubles in 13 games since returning from a 7-week layoff due to thumb surgery.
* Ryan Howard is 4-for-36 with no extra-base hits and 16 strikeouts in nine games (eight starts) since returning from a 3-week layoff due to a sprained ankle.
* Placido Polanco was hitting .256 with a .298 on-base percentage in 22 games, dropping his batting average from .322 to .309. After last night's 0-for-4 outing, his average dipped again to .306.
"When we've got our offense going, we've got guys hitting like [Jimmy] Rollins, Utley, Howard, those guys like that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Polly's been pretty consistent all year. He's been over .300 all season . . . We need to get those people hitting in general."
Manuel made a minor adjustment to his batting order, moving Polanco from second to third in order to put a righthanded bat between Utley, who hit second, and Howard, who remained at No. 4. The move, Manuel said, was made largely because of the presence of tough lefty Hong-Chih Kuo in the Dodgers bullpen.
"Try to find some balance," Manuel said.
Utley and Howard remain the key. Utley made a speedy recovery from his thumb surgery, but has had little success driving the ball since his return.
"We definitely need for him and Ryan to get hot," Manuel said.
Starting tomorrow, rosters expand past 25 players, meaning the Phillies will be able to call up some reinforcements from their minor league system. The only stipulation is that a player must be on the 40-man roster. The Phillies currently have two open spots on the 40-man, along with the ability to open up a third by moving injured lefty Jamie Moyer to the 60-day disabled list. But don't expect a slew of promotions right away. Last year, the Phillies' lone call-up on Sept. 1 was veteran lefthander Jack Taschner, who started the season on the active roster before being designated for assignment. They later added catcher Paul Hoover, outfielder John Mayberry Jr., infielder Andy Tracy and pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Sergio Escalona.
Prospective call-ups on the 40-man: Mayberry, lefthander Mike Zagurski and righthanders Andrew Carpenter and Vance Worley. Righthander Scott Mathieson could also merit some consideration.
Prospective call-ups not currently on the 40: infielders Greg Dobbs and Cody Ransom, catchers Dane Sardinha and Hoover, lefthanders Nate Bump and Nate Robertson, and righthander Brandon Duckworth.
The Phillies need a starter for Monday's doubleheader against the Marlins. Robertson, who started the season in the Marlins rotation, is a candidate, along with Carpenter, Bump and Duckworth. Worley could also merit consideration, although he has never started a big-league game.