09/29/09 6:55 PM ET
Manuel talks to Phils behind closed doors
Manager staying positive as team struggles down stretch
By Andy Jasner / Special to MLB.com
He's not the type of manager to throw equipment around and yell and scream to motivate his players.
What he does once in a while is simple: He'll shut the doors before a game and just talk to his players. And that's what happened before Tuesday's game against the Astros at Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia has dropped five of its past seven games, including an 8-2 loss to Houston on Monday. While the Phillies have been losing, the Braves have ripped off seven straight wins and 15 of 17 to get within four games in the National League East with six games left.
The Phillies' magic number to clinch their third consecutive NL East crown remains at three, and they would like to celebrate as soon as possible. But they have to start winning, and Manuel is keenly aware of that.
"It was just some things I wanted to tell them," Manuel said. "It was a very short, positive meeting."
Did any players speak up?
"No, I did all the talking," Manuel said.
Over the past seven games and through September, the bullpen has struggled. So has the offense. Only Carlos Ruiz has an average above .300 in September (.319). Chase Utley entered Tuesday's game hitting .222 in the month, while Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz were both hitting .227. Ryan Howard is next behind Ruiz at .294.
It's a combination of hitting, pitching and, of course, injuries. But Manuel refuses to use injuries as an excuse.
"This hasn't been all that hard," Manuel said. "It's cut and dry. It's who you got. Somebody gets hurt, you go to somebody else."
Could it be that the Phillies are tired?
"Look, we haven't played good," Manuel said. "If you don't hit, you don't look good. If you don't score runs, you don't look good. Anytime you don't hit or score runs, you don't look good. You've got to play through this. Every year, you go through it. You just have to come out and do the things you're used to doing."
Three wins in six games will solve all the problems and ease all the concerns for a little while. Once you get into the postseason, anything can happen.
"We're not in first place because we're not any good," Manuel said. "We're good. I know we've got the best team in our division. I feel that 100 percent."
Manuel feels that his team is in prime position for a three-peat. That has never changed, and he doesn't have a sense that they're tight by any means.
"We're still loose," he said. "I'd say we're very loose. We're not panicking."
Andy Jasner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.