Rhys Hoskins has been here before.
It's the eighth inning on Wednesday night in Miami, and the Phillies have the tying run on first base with two out. Patient as ever, Hoskins lets the first pitch go for a called strike. He fouls off the second pitch. The third pitch from Marlins reliever Kyle Barraclough, a 93-mph fastball, is a foot outside. But Hoskins chases it anyway, waving at strike three. Rally over. Inning over.
This was what it was like in May. Hoskins couldn't buy a big hit then either, and not coincidentally, the Phillies struggled to score runs. Hoskins came out of that slump, just as he will emerge from this one. Only now, he knows he's running out of time, just like the Phillies.
"I think it's pretty obvious. Obviously, I've seen the ball better," Hoskins said after Wednesday night's 2-1 loss. "But the beautiful part about this game is we get to do it again."
For another three weeks, at least. Beginning with Friday night's series opener in New York against the lowly Mets, the Phillies have 23 games to make up a three-game deficit in the National League East. It's hardly insurmountable. The 2007 and 2008 Phillies faced longer odds and still made the playoffs, as franchise icon Jimmy Rollins reminded this year's team when he dropped by Marlins Park for a visit this week, and the division-leading Atlanta Braves aren't exactly running away and hiding.
But if the Phillies are going to escape a 10-18 rut in which they haven't won a series in a month, they will need to hit their way out of it. And that starts with their slugging leftfielder.
Hoskins is hardly the only slumping Phillies hitter. Odubel Herrera is batting .193 with four extra-base hits since the beginning of August. Cesar Hernandez has a .313 on-base percentage in his last 33 games.
Nick Williams hasn't homered since Aug. 16. Wilson Ramos is 3 for 17 since his torrid start with the Phillies and struck out in a key situation Wednesday night. Maikel Franco has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and a sore right wrist that required him to leave the team this week and get an MRI.
And even if all those hitters were hitting, the Phillies are likely still a piece or two short of being a truly dangerous offense.
Manager Gabe Kapler has gotten creative to spur the offense. Wednesday night, he moved Carlos Santana to third base to get first baseman Justin Bour into the lineup and topped the order with Santana and Bour, both of whom have a knack for reaching base. If we know Kapler, there will be other inventive lineups forthcoming.
But it all revolves around Hoskins. In a big-league career that has spanned a mere 13 months, he already is the Phillies' biggest offensive force. When he's hot, he's capable of carrying the Phillies. Lately, though, he's been far from it. He has two hits in his last 27 at-bats and is 18 for 106 (.170) with five home runs, 25 strikeouts, and a .618 OPS in his last 30 games. The Phillies are 12-18 in those games. Once again, it isn't a coincidence.
"Quite simply, great, great hitters struggle," Kapler said. "Great hitters struggle for prolonged periods. He's just run into a really tough stretch. It's not his first one of the year. He's had other tough stretches, and he's come out the other side better as a result. It would not surprise me at all to see him get especially hot down the stretch and see him put this team on his back. He's that kind of offensive performer."
Indeed, Hoskins' first full major-league season has been filled with streaks. He batted .303 with four homers and a .985 OPS in March and April. In May, he slipped to .161 with two homers and a .551 OPS. After missing nine games with a fractured jaw, he came back to hit .291 with 15 homers and a .992 OPS through June and July. And now, another month-long funk.
"I think what separates the good [hitters] from the great is consistency. And consistency, I think, is learned," Hoskins said. "It comes with experience. Not that I'm making an excuse at all. I just think the more experience you have, the more you learn how to get yourself out of ruts when you find yourself in a rut."
And that's what gives Hoskins confidence that he can extricate himself from this one. He said he can "100 percent" draw from his struggles in May to get back on track now. The biggest thing he learned from that experience?
"That you can get out of it," Hoskins said. "It's not going to last forever. Obviously, I have proven that before. We've proven that as a team before. We're going to be just fine."