Before the game, Gabe Kapler talked about the importance of coming out and setting a tone for the second half of the season in the first game back from the All-Star break.
This wasn't the kind of tone he envisioned.
The Phillies' six-week cliff dive continued Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta gave up two runs in the second inning and the Phils, who had eight hits but just one for extra bases, had no answers for Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, who is 13-2 in his career against the Phils.
"It's certainly not the way we wanted to start the second half," Kapler said. "I also recognize that it's one game."
The slide has been going on for a lot longer than one game.
The loss was the Phils' 22nd in the last 36 games as they have dropped from first place in the National League East to third.
Meanwhile, the Nationals, who once trailed the Phillies by 10 games in the division, are 29-11 since May 24. They hold a 1 ½ game lead on the Phils for second place. Atlanta, which played a late game in San Diego, entered the night leading the division by six games over the Nats.
"I think as a team, as a group, when you don't pitch well, when you don't play ball well, when you don't hit well, you're not going to win games," Bryce Harper said. "So I think as a team, as an organization, the guys that we do have in here, of course, we should be winning ball games.
"But like I said, if you don't hit well, you don't get timely hitting or any of that kind of stuff, you're not going to win games."
The continued slide has put Kapler and his coaching staff under the heat lamp.
Before the game, club president Andy MacPhail was asked about the job security of Kapler and his staff.
"To me, honestly, I hate to even dignify that question with an answer," MacPhail said. "We're in the postseason today, if the season was over. To suggest for a second that there's something lacking at the leadership level, coaching level, I just don't believe that."
The Phillies (47-44) are in the midst of their seven most important days of the season - a three-game visit from Washington followed by a four-game visit from the Dodgers, who own the best record in baseball.
MacPhail does not believe the Phillies are close enough to a World Series to ship off what prospects the team does have in high-profile trades (see story), but the club could still take on high-salaried players and make other deals if it can turn things around in the short term. It won't be easy against the Nationals and Dodgers.
"That's up to them," Harper said of the front office's approach to the trade deadline. "That's their job to do. It's our job to play good baseball and make them push their hand a little bit if we can do that."
The offense and bullpen have had their difficult stretches - and the offense failed again Friday night - but starting pitching is this team's biggest weakness and need. Pivetta lasted just five innings, threw 87 pitches and gave up three runs.
"I just didn't think he was able to execute enough pitches to go deep into the game for us," Kapler said.
Pivetta is 1-7 with a 10.06 ERA against the Nationals in his career.
"I've struggled against them a lot," Pivetta said. "But even though I gave up three runs, it's a ton less than what I've given up this year so there are a lot of positives I can take away from that. It could have turned into a much worse baseball game."
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