MINNEAPOLIS -- Is there a solution to this?
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel spoke matter-of-factly about his team following Tuesday's 11-7 loss to the Twins at Target Field. Not long ago -- just last season, in fact -- the pitching staff had been the team's strength, but because of injuries to Roy Halladay and a host of relief pitchers, the pitching lately has been the prime culprit in its losing ways. Since April 22, the Phillies entered Tuesday sixth in baseball averaging 4.74 runs per game, but 24th in ERA (4.74).
"What can I say?" Manuel said. "It seems like it's hard for us to get it. It's hard for us to put together a solid game."
The Phillies are 29-34 and 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Nationals in the National League East. The Phillies have not been 9 ½ games out of first place since they finished 12 behind the Mets to finish the 2006 season.
They have not been five games under .500 since April 22, 2007, when they were 6-11. But they have not been five games under .500 this late in the season since Aug. 1, 2006, when they were 50-55. The Phillies were nine games under .500 on July 25, 2006, which prompted Pat Gillick to unload Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, Rheal Cormier, Ryan Franklin, David Bell and Sal Fasano to rebuild for the future and change the chemistry in the clubhouse.
If the Phillies keep playing like this, the front office could be making similar decisions in July.
"I'm not worried about it," Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said. "We've got 100 games left, or 99 or whatever it is. There's no reason [to worry]. This game itself has enough worries."
Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick spotted the Twins an early 5-0 lead, which meant bad things for the Phillies.
They had not overcome a deficit greater than two runs this season.
"Everything was fine," Kendrick said. "I was getting ahead. I just wanted to be aggressive tonight, and they swung the bats well. There was nothing I could do."
Denard Span hit a leadoff homer in the first and Trevor Plouffe hit a two-run homer in the second, as the Twins built their five-run lead. The Phillies chipped away in the fourth, when Jim Thome walked and Carlos Ruiz, Mike Fontenot and Michael Martinez each singled with two outs to make it 5-2. Jimmy Rollins then doubled to score two runs to make it 5-4.
But Kendrick allowed another run in the fourth to make it 6-4 before making way for the bullpen. Joe Savery allowed three runs in two innings, and B.J. Rosenberg allowed two runs in 2/3 of an inning to put the game out of reach.
Yes, Hunter Pence committed an error that led to a run in the fifth. Sure, second base umpire Manny Gonzalez did not see Plouffe miss third base on his way home a short time later (the Phillies argued, but to no avail). And, yes, a fan interfered with Fontenot on a foul ball that would have ended the seventh inning, but instead allowed another run to score.
But a young and inexperienced Phillies bullpen could not stop the bleeding.
"It was a hitters' night, and we couldn't stop them," Manuel said. "They stayed after us. Our young pitchers got work in, and that's good. We have good young arms. They made some mistakes. They have to get their command down.
"It's going be some growing pains there. But they have talents, they have arms, they have good fastballs. But it's going to take some time to get them some experience, get them in spots where they can command their pitches."
Except the Phillies don't seem to have time on their side. They're also not looking to build for the future. They're trying to win now.
So how much time can the Phillies afford?
"We can't afford to lose too many," Manuel said. "We're 29-34. We can't afford ... we have to come out and win some games."
They have won just one of their last 10. It is why they will wake up Wednesday in last place.
It's a bit of a shocker.
"Any time we're in last place in the division that we're in -- I wouldn't use the word shocking -- the game of baseball sometimes happens that way," Victorino said. "You've just got to stay focused and just not even worry about that, not even worry about the number that you're playing from behind. In '07 we were seven [back] with 17 to go, and we ended up winning. People are going to say, oh, you keep looking at that, but there's so much baseball left. We just have to keep plugging along."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.