CINCINNATI — Nick Williams tries to stay away from peeking at the standings, ignoring them just like he does with his own statistics. There are still more than two months left in the season and division titles are not crowned in July.
But Williams caught himself looking Saturday night — after another loss to the Reds — to see where the Phillies stood. A day later, the Phillies were blanked, 4-0.
They left Cincinnati with a three-game losing streak after opening the four-game series with a decisive win. Their division lead over Atlanta was trimmed to just 1½ games. The way the Phillies respond to this tough stretch will determine where they stand the next time Williams decides to check the standings.
"We're a young team. We've gotten better at not letting things drag on," Williams said. "Me especially. In my past, I would let things carry on. I've learned you have to flush it. Sometimes it's not you. Sometimes you do have to tip your hat to the pitcher. Sometimes those guys are unhittable. We're a young team. We have a lot of positivity in the locker room and we have fun. We just want to compete. We'll go out there and do our best."
The Phillies were shut out for the third time this year and had just five hits before they loaded the bases on three singles in the ninth inning. Scott Kingery and Andrew Knapp struck out against Reds closer Raisel Iglesias to end the rally. The Phillies struck out 14 times, walked just once, and had one extra-base hit. Reds righthander Luis Castillo dominated them for seven shutout innings.
The Phils scored nine runs and collected 18 hits in Thursday's win. They responded with just six runs and 19 hits in the final three games at Great American Ball Park.
It sure seemed on Thursday that the Phillies would have a chance this weekend to add to their division lead. The Braves lost three straight to the Dodgers before winning Sunday. The Nationals lost Saturday and Sunday to the lowly Marlins. The Phillies, against a last-place team, failed to capitalize.
"We've had stretches of not-our-best-performance in the past," manager Gabe Kapler said. "When that happens, I remind our guys that every great club goes through stretches and sometimes long stretches where you come out on the short end of the stick. So I'll continue to spread that message."
Zach Eflin allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits, struck out four, and walked one. Eflin relied almost exclusively on his fastball and slider as he failed to establish a third pitch. Scooter Gennett capped a three-run third inning against Eflin with a two-run homer to right. The rally was started when Phillip Ervin chopped a double past third baseman Maikel Franco, who made a throwing error an inning later. The Phillies' defense, for the second straight day, was not crisp.
"Obviously, it's not ideal. I didn't do my job today," Eflin said. "I had some good stuff and then I had some bad pitches that I threw in there. I really wanted to be able to stop them today but that's not the way it went. We're going to go through games like this. It's just how we bounce back and how we battle the next series."
That next series begins Monday against the Red Sox, owners of the best record in baseball. It will be a stiff test for the Phillies, who will try to leave Boston with their lead intact. Kapler lined his rotation up last week with this series in mind as the Phillies start Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta in Fenway Park. The Phillies, Kapler said, feel confident with their "horses on the mound." It will be a daunting task after a disappointing weekend. The Phillies will learn a lot about themselves — and the standings — by the way they respond.
"Tough times happen, but it's how you bounce back," Williams said. "It will be a sold-out crowd, a new place for a lot of guys and it will be high adrenaline. We'll be ready to go."