"It seems like we get to a point, then we fall back," the Phillies' manager said. "Right now, especially with the way we're playing and the way our pitching sets up, especially our bullpen, it's hard for us to run off and get something going as a winning streak. But we're going to get better."
Philadelphia averaged 5.1 runs per game on the homestand, which should have been good enough to win six or seven games. But the staff had a 4.90 ERA, which cost the Phils. The organization's plan to have a bullpen game Wednesday backfired, and Kyle Kendrick allowed five runs within the first six batters he faced in the first inning Thursday, putting the Phillies in a quick 5-0 hole.
"It kind of took a little starch out of us early," Manuel said. "That lets a little air out of the bubble. You can feel it."
Kendrick, who has a 7.67 ERA in his last five starts, retired 19 of the final 23 batters he faced, allowing just two hits in the final six innings he pitched. Manuel credited Kendrick for not allowing any further damage and giving the bullpen some rest, but the single, walk and single he allowed to the first four batters he faced, and the three-run home run to Casey McGehee and the solo home run to Pedro Alvarez, contributed to the difference between splitting at home and finishing with a winning record.
"I gave us a chance to win," Kendrick said. "I pitched deep into the game. They needed me to pitch deep into the game. I did that. We were in the game. We had a chance to win the game. Yeah, you never want to give up runs, but I was happy with myself to go deep like that and give us a chance."
Pitching has been the Phillies' biggest nemesis this season. Since Roy Halladay left a May 27 game in St. Louis because of a strained back muscle, the Phillies are just 1-17 when they score fewer than six runs. They are 15-38 (.395) overall when scoring fewer than six runs. Compare that to last season, when the Phillies had one of the best rotations in baseball history and went 57-59 (.491) when scoring fewer than six runs.
The rotation has a 5.13 ERA in 30 games since Halladay's injury. The bullpen has a 4.62 ERA.
The Phils simply have to hope the starters and the relievers -- a collection of youngsters, journeymen and closer Jonathan Papelbon -- start pitching better.
"I think we've got to keep getting them as much experience as possible," Manuel said of his young bullpen. "We can learn from that. But in the meantime, we also need to win games."
But how difficult is that?
"That's pretty damn difficult," Manuel said.
The Phillies tried to claw back, with Erik Kratz hitting a two-run home run to left-center field in the second to make it 5-2. They scored another run in the sixth to make it 5-3, and Hunter Pence homered in the eighth to make it 5-4. But they also wasted several offensive opportunities, going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
The Phils hit .202 (19-for-94) with runners in scoring position during the homestand.
"A 5-5 homestand, you always want to win series," said Pence, who is hitting .196 with runners in scoring position. "That's our goal. We've got to continue to progress. Take from the good. The losses, they sting. But we've just got to keep pushing. Getting Chase [Utley back] is exciting, but we've got to find a way to start winning series."
The sooner, the better. The Phillies' series finale against the Marlins on Sunday marks the official halfway point of the season.