"I know when you don't play complete baseball it's hard to win at this level," Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee said following Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Angels at Citizens Bank Park. "If you're slacking -- if your pitcher isn't throwing strikes or your team isn't swinging the bat or you're not playing solid defense, it's hard to win."
It is why the Phillies are 17-20 and last in the National League East. If they expect to contend for a postseason berth, they need to tighten up their play quickly, because the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and moves that often come with it for losing teams will be here before they know it.
"We'd like to be in a better position right now, no doubt," Lee said. "If we just played more consistently, I definitely think we have a chance [to contend]. It helps that the Braves have played as they have lately, and just kind of let everyone get back in it a little bit, but there's still a lot of season left. We're fortunate that we're not in a bigger hole than we could be in. It all boils down to just playing fundamental baseball."
The Phillies scored their first two runs in the fourth inning. Ben Revere singled and scored on Chase Utley's triple to make it 1-0. Ryan Howard followed with a single to left to score Utley.
The Phillies took that 2-0 lead into the sixth, but in that inning they were unable to put together a complete game behind Lee.
It felt oddly familiar. A misplayed fly ball last week in Toronto turned a 1-0 deficit into a 10-0 loss for the left-hander. A couple of errors by Phillies third baseman Cody Asche on Tuesday quickly turned a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 deficit.
Collin Cowgill started the inning with a double down the left-field line. Mike Trout, who had about 4,000 fans from nearby Millville, N.J., at the game to support him, as well as thousands more from the surrounding community, struck out swinging for the first out. But Albert Pujols reached on an error from Asche to put runners at the corners. Howie Kendrick walked to load the bases, then Chris Iannetta hit a ball back to Asche.
Asche had a play at the plate, but he spiked his throw into the turf, pulling Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz off the plate. Cowgill scored to make it 2-1.
Asche committed a third error in the seventh inning to make him the first Phillies third baseman to commit three errors in a game since David Bell on May 17, 2005, against the Cardinals.
"Stick to your roots," Asche said. "Work. That's all you can do. Ask for more chances. They'll be there."
"It's something that [Larry] Bowa's been working on a daily basis with extra work," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Asche's defense, which had been an issue this season. "Just waiting for him to settle into a groove. A lot of things have been throwing at him as far as setup and quickness and everything. It's an ongoing work effort."
Grant Green's sacrifice fly to right field scored Pujols to make it 2-2, and Luis Jimenez's double cleared the bases to give the Angels a 4-2 lead.
Lee allowed six hits, four unearned runs and a walk with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
"I thought Cliff was outstanding with his stuff," Sandberg said. "Probably could have pitched a shutout with that stuff. That was shutout stuff."
Lee has been there before. Since the Phillies won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, it seems Lee has had more than his share of finely pitched games wasted because of a poor offensive or defensive performance.
Tuesday was just another one of those nights.
This loss dropped the Phillies to 6-10 at the Bank, entering a stretch of 16 of 19 games at home. If they do not reverse course, it may be tough to recover.
"It's something we need to improve on," Sandberg said. "This needs to be our home-field advantage. We need to do something different to create that."