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10/05/08 1:01 AM ET

Spin Forward: For Phils, near must-win

Brewers have momentum against a club that's not hitting

MILWAUKEE -- Suddenly the Phillies are looking down the gullet at a possible tie in their National League Division Series that began to shift toward the Brewers on Saturday night at a lively and raucous Miller Park.

The Brewers, down 2-1 now in the best-of-five series, began to stir offensively in Game 3, scoring more runs (four to three) and amassing more hits (11 to seven) than they did in losing the first two games this week at Philadelphia. If that trend continues, Milwaukee could very well win Game 4 on Sunday, sending the series back to a climactic fifth game Tuesday night in Citizens Bank Park.

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In contrast, the Phillies now have scored in just three of the 25 innings, and for the second consecutive postseason, the big bats in the middle of their lineup have gone silent.

"Sometimes when we talk about hitting, that's where it goes at times," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the Brewers clipped the Phillies, 4-1, in Game 3. "I don't know what you do about it. Actually we haven't hit really, what I'll call hitting for our team."

No kidding. In the last two games, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell have combined to go 3-for-21 with a single RBI, coming on Saturday night when Howard knocked in the Phils' only run with a sixth-inning grounder to third.

It's more of the same from last postseason, when the Phils were swept by the Rockies in the first round.

Last October, the deadly 3-4-5 batters hit .206 (3-for-34) with two homers, a pair of RBIs and seven strikeouts in the Colorado series. This year, they've already whiffed eight times in the three games, but not once on Saturday night, when they went 3-for-11.

How the Phillies' 3-4-5 hitters have performed in the National League Division Series
"It's the playoffs," said Howard, who had two hits in the game, including a double, but had no real answers. "They're going to pitch Chase, Pat and myself tough. They're not going to let us beat them at all. It happens. It's baseball. What do you do?"

The run-scoring dearth is virtually a club-wide epidemic.

The Phillies scored three unearned runs during the third inning of Wednesday's Game 1, 3-1 victory courtesy of two misplayed balls -- one dropped by Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks covering first base on a sacrifice bunt, and the other dropped on a dead run by center fielder Mike Cameron.

In Game 2's 5-2 win, the Phils scored all five runs in the second inning when Brewers ace CC Sabathia allowed Shane Victorino's grand slam. Add the Howard run-scoring grounder in the sixth inning of Game 3, and there you have it.

It makes one wonder how the Phillies find themselves holding a tenuous lead in the series.

"I think we're fortunate to be up 2-1," Manuel said. "I mean, we've got to hit. We've got to score runs. We're supposed to hit, and when we don't, yeah, I'm concerned about it. But I don't know what you can do right now, especially this time of year in the playoffs. Actually, that's what the playoffs are all about; you don't have time to go into slumps or go bad or anything. You've got to be playing good. In order for us to go to the World Series, we've got to hit."

Thus far that hasn't happened. Utley is 2-for-12 with two RBIs on a third-inning double in a Game 1. Howard is 2-for-8 with an RBI on that Game 3 grounder. And Burrell, who tweaked his back during the preseries workout on Tuesday, is an invisible 0-for-8.

Manuel said that Burrell is healthy, although he hardly looks it. "He hasn't said anything at all about his back," the manager said.

Right now, Burrell's bat is doing the talking and not very well. But hope springs eternal.

"We won two games without getting a whole lot of production from the middle," he said. "I think that's a good thing. That means it's about to turn around."

Unless some other Victorino hero steps up instead, it best turn around and turn around quickly. Like Sunday.

If not, that gullet the Phils are looking down will be Game 5 back at home on Tuesday.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.