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June 01, 2016

With or without Howard, Phillies extend losing streak to six as Nats complete sweep

Pete Mackanin benched Ryan Howard for the rest of the week (and possibly longer) and it magically solved all that ails the Phillies offense and a team that entered Wednesday riding a season-high five-game losing streak.

Actually, that didn’t happen. The 2016 Phillies with an appearance from Howard looked exactly like the 2016 Phillies, it turns out.

Of course, Max Scherzer also probably had something to do with that, too.

Scherzer, the author of a 20-strikeout game last month, sent 11 Phillies down by strikeout on Wednesday night and held the Phillies to five hits in eight innings as the Nationals coasted to a 7-2 win.

(Howard actually did make an appearance, coming off the bench to fly out to center for the game's final out).

The Nats victory completed a three-game sweep, payback for the Phils sweep in Washington at the end of April. The Phillies loss was their sixth straight and their 10th in their last 12 games.

The Phillies (26-27) have a losing record for the first time in 34 games (since they took a 9-10 record into their 20th game of the season, on April 26).

Perhaps Mackanin was on to something when he threw out a new Pete-ism that might have to replace “Why Not” as his team’s motto.

“You know the old saying, when the going gets tough you gotta play better,” Mackanin quipped Tuesday afternoon.

The Phillies have lost two games since Mackanin made that joke. Maybe he should put it on a poster and place it in the hallway that leads out to the dugout at Citizens Bank Park.

The current six-game losing streak has come against the best two teams in the National League – the Nats and Chicago Cubs   – and the Phillies were outscored 34-11 in those games.

"We know where we need to go; we’re not there," Mackanin said following Wednesday's loss. "We’d like to be the Cubs, where the Cubs are with their young players. Changes are going to be made over the course of the season. At what time I’m not sure. ... I anticipate (Maikel) Franco to come around. We need a guy in the middle of the lineup to drive in runs."

Franco, hitting .221 in his last 28 games, was given a seat alongside Howard on Wednesday night. Unlike Howard, he'll be back in the lineup on Thursday against Chase Anderson and the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Wednesday night, the Phillies offense was limited to a two-run home run from Tyler Goeddel in the seventh inning, the only thing that probably stood between Scherzer and what could have been his first shutout of the year.

Goeddel has been on of the few (only?) bright spots in the Phillies limp lineup in recent weeks. The 23-year-old Rule 5 pick – a player many fans were ready to give back to Tampa Bay when he wasn’t hitting (perhaps because he wasn’t playing?) in April – is hitting .333 with three home runs, two triples, and a double in 17 games since being plugged into the starting lineup regularly three weeks ago.

While Goeddel has been trending upward, Adam Morgan has been going the other way in the last three weeks.

After keeping the Phillies in the game for the first five innings against Scherzer and the Bryce Harper-free but still potent Nats lineup, with his team trailing 2-0, Morgan surrendered a pair of home runs in a four-run sixth inning. Wilson Ramos followed back to back singles with a blast into the right field seats. Two matters later, light-hitting shortstop Danny Espinosa homered for the second time in as many games.

"It was a bad time to make mistakes and leave balls up," Morgan said. "You can’t take them back – you wish you could – but I think it was the simple mistake of leaving balls up."

Morgan, who allowed just seven runs in his first three starts after replacing the injured Charlie Morton in the rotation, has given up 21 earned runs in his last four starts. He has a 9.61 ERA in that span, and a 7.07 ERA overall in seven games this season.

"He’s got stuff," Mackanin said of Morgan, who had mixed in two good starts (at least six innings, two earned runs or fewer) in with two bad starts in his last four games entering Wednesday. "

"There’s a lot of guys who have stuff," the manager continued. "But in order to be successful, you can’t make mistakes. You have to keep the ball down in the zone and hit the corners, change speeds. That’s how you become a good major league pitcher. He’s got the stuff to do that. He’s got the instinct to do that, but this is a result-oriented business, especially here. You have to get results and you can't make mistakes."

When the going gets tough, sometimes it stays tough. After a plucky six-week run from the local nine, welcome back to the Phillies rebuild. 

TOMMY BOY

Tommy Joseph went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his first of what's looking like a three-to-four game trial as the team's everyday first baseman in place of Howard. The rookie found out about his new opportunity from Howard in a classy move earlier in the afternoon. 

"We’ve talked a little bit since then, too," Joseph said. "He’s been great. He’s done so much for this team and this city. That’s something he didn’t have to do. For a guy like him to come up to me and tell me that, it means a lot."

Now Joseph has to make the most of his opportunity. But couldn't that get tricky, not wanting to put too much pressure on yourself in a three-to-four game window?

"You can only do so much," Joseph said. "You can only get one hit in one at-bat. So I’m just going to continue to be prepared every day. It’s obviously a good feeling when you know you’re going to play. When you show up, you go to sleep that night you’re still preparing for the next day. You wake up in the morning and you’re getting ready to play. That’s something that I’m excited about having the opportunity and I’m still just going to treat it like every day where I come here and prepare to get ready."

DEE-FENCE

The Phillies didn't hit or pitch much on Wednesday. But Freddy Galvis and right fielder David Lough highlighted a strong defensive showing.

So at least the 19,052 at Citizens Bank Park had that going for them, which was nice.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21