ST. LOUIS - It had the makings of a nice trip to the Gateway City.
Sure, the Phillies were blown out in the first game, but they came back and won the second one and were two outs from winning the third when they blew a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.
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OK, so that didn't go their way, but a victory on Thursday would have given the Phils a split of the four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that averaged 96 wins the last three seasons, and who wouldn't have taken that a month ago when the Phils were in the process of coming out of the chute 0-4?
In the end, it wasn't such a nice trip to St. Louis, after all. The Phils came in riding the high of a six-game winning streak and left town losers of three of four after absorbing a 4-0 defeat Thursday afternoon (see Instant Replay).
Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia held the Phillies to two hits and he did not walk a batter in seven scoreless innings. The Phillies are hitting .166 (32 for 193) against lefty pitching this season and they face two of them this weekend in Miami.
That oughta be interesting.
"He did everything you ask a pitcher to do," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Garcia. "He threw strikes with all his pitches, changed speeds and worked fast. He basically had us eating out of his hand."
That's not all that hard to do. Despite their nice little start to the season, the Phillies, who are 16-13, are an extremely poor offensive team. It's surprising this was the first time they were shut out. Pitching - the Phils' staff already has six shutouts - defense and timely, not abundant, hitting has carried the team so far. The Phils entered Thursday's game scoring just 3.21 runs per game. Only Atlanta at 3.07 was worse. What's more, Mackanin rested slumping Maikel Franco on Thursday. The Phils had three players with batting averages under .200 in the starting lineup and the team's leading home run man, Ryan Howard, sat out against a lefty against whom he was 3 for 15 with eight strikeouts lifetime.
In other words, a bad offense was even worse.
Starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he kept the Phils in the game and allowed just one run through six innings before the Cardinals broke it open in the seventh.
"He battled against a real good hitting team," Mackanin said. "The thing is we're losing games because we're not scoring runs. We've got to score more runs. That's what it boils down to.
"The pitchers seemed to have settled it. I'm anxious for the hitters to do the same."
Eickhoff has four losses. He gave up just two earned runs in two of them and three Thursday, but he wasn't about to blame poor run support. He pointed the finger at himself for missing a spot and giving up a mammoth home run to Brandon Moss in the first inning. He walked Yadier Molina in the seventh and that turned into a run.
"I personally see it as I need to pitch better," Eickhoff said. "I was charged with three runs. For the home run, I missed location. The walk to Molina - I have to be aggressive and not get behind that guy. So I have to be sharper personally. It starts with me."
Eickhoff left the game trailing just 1-0 with two men on base in the seventh, but they both scored when Elvis Araujo and Colton Murray struggled to get outs.
Araujo and Murray both started the season in Triple A. It was curious that Mackanin did not use well-rested David Hernandez to keep it close in the seventh. He explained that he was saving Hernandez for the eighth in case the Phillies got the lead and that he wanted to give Hector Neris a rest. As it turned out, Hernandez pitched the eighth, but with the Phils down four runs instead of one.
"I can't keep going to the same guys when we're up a run, tied or down a run or two," Mackanin said. "I've got to use different guys.
"Basically what happened in that one inning, I thought about using Hernandez but the pitcher was coming up fourth and if I brought in Hernandez there and I had to hit for him in the eighth, now I have to use Neris in a close game which means I'm using him when I really don't want to.
"That's part of the whole deal. You've got to make sure you don't overwork guys in losing situations, and the fact that we're not swinging the bats and scoring runs makes it a little different. If we had a little offense going I could afford to do that more often."