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Last-place Phillies heading toward worst season since 2000

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PHILADELPHIA - With the losses piling up, the Philadelphia Phillies are moving closer to a major overhaul.

The Phillies followed up a successful road trip with a dismal homestand that left them a season-worst eight games behind in the mediocre NL East. They were 34-38 and only 3 1-2 games out of first place following three straight wins in Atlanta and two more in St. Louis.

But they're 2-8 since and just finished getting swept by the first-place Braves in a four-game series. Unless things drastically change on a 10-game road trip that begins Tuesday night in Miami, the Phillies could be big sellers before the non-waiver trade deadline. They're 36-36 and on pace to win 71 games, their fewest since going 65-97 in 2000.

"The time has been now for two or three weeks," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We had a good stretch there, we had a winning streak, and we weren't able to come home and continue. But that's what we need now, to go on the road after an off day, where we've played well, and hopefully pick it up and have a road trip like we did the last."

The Phillies spent Monday recovering from their latest awful stretch. They've played their worst baseball in front of the home fans, going 18-27 at Citizens Bank Park. Eight of those losses were shutouts.

"I don't see terror in anyone's eyes," centre fielder Ben Revere said. "We're competing and I think it's going to change."

That's more wishful thinking than realistic.

These Phillies don't seem capable of turning it around. They hardly resemble the team that won five straight division titles, two pennants and one World Series from 2007-11.

"It's a tough spot to be in," slugger Ryan Howard said. "We'll try to take this off day, get this out of our system and try to get right on Tuesday."

An inconsistent offence has been Philadelphia's biggest problem. The starting pitching has kept them in games and the bullpen was outstanding in June, but hitters don't deliver in the clutch and the team continues to make fundamental mistakes in every facet of the game.

"We have to do the little things to win baseball games, whether it's putting the ball in play to get a run in with the infield back, whether it's getting jumps on balls, that's fundamentals," Sandberg said.

Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz — the remaining regulars from the 2008 World Series championship team — are clearly on the decline, but they're not the main reason why the offence ranks in the bottom seven in average (.242) and runs (3.8 per game).

Domonic Brown, an All-Star last year who led the team with 27 homers, is one of the worst offensive players in the majors with a .586 OPS. He's also a defensive liability in left field. Revere has a poor on-base percentage (.304) for a leadoff hitter and also hurts the team defensively. Overall, the entire group is too inconsistent.

Brown and Revere are two of the younger, cheaper players the Phillies were counting on to perform. They have the third-highest payroll ($184 million) in the league, so they can't replace inexpensive players with high-priced guys.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will likely field offers from contenders for several players. Right fielder Marlon Byrd, righty A.J. Burnett and ace Cliff Lee, if he returns from the disabled list, would be leading candidates to go somewhere else.

The organization has been reluctant to blow it up and start fresh, but they're going nowhere and need to look to the future. The Phillies don't have minor leaguers ready to fill in, so rebuilding from within isn't going to be an easy task. They'll have to land prospects in trades.

Most fans gave them a pass the last two seasons. But now they've run out of patience and aren't showing up to the ballpark the way they did before.

Empty seats get management's attention and could accelerate the rebuilding process.

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