The Phillies need offensive help, they need starting pitching, and both deficiencies were on display Sunday afternoon as they were swept at home by the lowly Cubs.
The Phils lost 4-3. They were outscored this weekend 25-7 by a Cubs team that entered 22 games under .500 and hadn't swept a single series all season.
Whatever momentum was gained in the road sweep of the Marlins leading into the All-Star break has dissipated. At 49-46, the Phillies are a game behind the Cardinals for the final NL wild-card spot.
Offensively, it was another futile effort, this one against left-hander Drew Smyly. The Phillies went 21 for 101 (.208) in the series. They scored 10 runs last Saturday in Miami but have averaged just 2.3 in their other nine games dating back to July 8.
"It's a three-game narrative right now, it's not an indication of us as a group," Kyle Schwarber said. "But we need to get on base and start producing runs.
"You can't ever be surprised by anything. This game will put you on the highest of highs and lowest of lows. We can't ride that wave. We can't go out there and try to reach for more just because we didn't score that many runs this series.
"I don't think that we're out there searching for ghosts. It's a good team and we're going to be prepared going into this next big series against the Braves."
The Phillies' first hit Sunday didn't come until two outs in the fifth inning when Bryson Stott doubled and came around to score on an Alec Bohm single. They scored another in the sixth because the Cubs dropped two popups and Rhys Hoskins hit a two-out RBI single. Garrett Stubbs, who has picked up a number of big hits in the backup catcher role, hit a solo homer in the eighth but the Phils couldn't make up the one-run difference.
The offensive drought has coincided with Schwarber's coming back to Earth. Schwarber helped the Phillies overcome the initial stages of the Bryce Harper injury by hitting seven homers and driving in 13 runs in the first nine games without the reigning NL MVP, but he is 4 for 51 since with three walks and 22 strikeouts. He was so hot for so long that a correction was bound to happen. The problem is that others haven't stepped up in his stead.
"Like everybody, you're going to be hot and not as hot," manager Rob Thomson said. "He's a big part of our offense with the walks and home runs. When he's not hitting or any of our big guys aren't hitting, it takes its toll."
Nick Castellanos had another poor offensive game, going 1 for 4 with two strikeouts and a foulout that opened the ninth inning of a one-run game. Castellanos was dropped to fifth, the lowest he's hit in the Phillies' order. Over the Phils' last 65 games, Castellanos has three home runs and a .250 on-base percentage. The boos grew louder after each out he made Sunday.
The Phils put two men on base with one out in the ninth inning against David Robertson but Didi Gregorius lined out and Stubbs struck out to end the game.
Bailey Falter got the start. He is currently occupying the No. 5 spot in the Phillies' rotation as Zach Eflin has been sidelined for a month with a knee injury.
Falter retired the first six hitters he faced before a rough third inning. Yan Gomes started the frame with a solo homer and Christopher Morel later doubled in Nelson Velazquez. Falter walked two in the inning and hit a batter, loading the bases with one out but limiting the damage to just those two runs.
There was a lot of loud contact the next inning, with Gomes hitting a second homer, Velazquez going deep and Morel crushing a line-drive single off the left-field wall.
Falter, who is more of a long reliever/spot starter, has started six games for the Phillies, completing five innings twice. The Phils are 4-2 in his starts.
"He'll probably get the next start but he gave up some well-hit balls," Thomson said. "He's got to locate a little bit better and get after people."
The trade deadline is August 2 and the Phillies have a clear need now for starting pitching with the uncertainty surrounding Eflin, who has dealt with knee issues his entire career. Even if they don't play at the top of the market for a Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas or Tyler Mahle, the Phils need another Kyle Gibson-esque starter who can get them a bit deeper into games.
Falter said he's not thinking about his tenuous grasp on a rotation spot.
"I'm not really too worried about that right now. I've got to come up here and do my job and help these guys win baseball games," he said. "That's all I'm focused on, I don't really care about the trade deadline, we just need to win games."
This was an important series for the Phillies. They're all important, but the next three games are against the Braves, who have been the best team in baseball since June 1, going 35-12. The Cardinals team the Phils are chasing for the final wild-card spot has a five-game week with two in Toronto and three in D.C. Cards superstars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado will both miss the two-game Blue Jays series because of Canada's vaccine mandate to enter the country.
The Phils are set to face Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton the next three games. All are tough customers. The Phillies counter with Ranger Suarez, Aaron Nola and Gibson.