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Once-dominant Phillies now at the bottom looking up

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PHILADELPHIA - A large payroll filled with big-name players and their impressive resumes hasn't helped the Philadelphia Phillies win many games.

On their first day off since May 19, the Phillies owned the NL's worst record at 25-36. They've lost eight of nine, 14 of 20 and are 10-22 since May 5.

The Phillies dominated the NL East from 2007-11, winning five division titles, two pennants and one World Series. That's a distant memory now. These Phillies are closer to getting the No. 1 draft pick in next year's amateur draft than getting back to the post-season.

Several players scoffed during spring training when asked if the window of opportunity for this group was closing. At this point, it appears shut.

The organization faces a difficult task. Trying to rebuild a roster with so many high-priced players isn't easy.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Kyle Kendrick are the remaining players from the team's long run of success. They're making $89.7 million this season combined.

Howard is untradeable because he's making $25 million this year and is owed at least $60 million over the next three. Utley ($15 million) and Rollins ($11 million) have veto rights on any trade. Ruiz is 35 and in the first year of a three-year, $26 million deal. Kendrick ($7.675 million) is 1-6 with a 4.30 ERA so there's not much of a market for him. Hamels is in the second season of a $144 million, six-year contract.

Toss in Cliff Lee ($25 million), A.J. Burnett ($15 million) and Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million) and that's $142.7 for just nine players. The Phillies had the third-highest payroll ($184 million) on opening day. The two teams above them — the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees — aren't playing much better. The Dodgers were 33-31 and the Yankees were 31-31.

An offence that features two former MVPs and six regulars who've been All-Stars is too inconsistent. The Phillies have been shut out seven times since May 5. They're 23rd in the majors in batting average (.241) and tied for 25th in runs (236).

Howard, Rollins, Utley and Ruiz are having decent years and Marlon Byrd ($8 million) is producing. But the Phillies still are struggling to score. Domonic Brown isn't hitting like a guy who was an All-Star last year. Third baseman Cody Asche is injured and centre fielder Ben Revere isn't doing his job.

Executing fundamentals has been a major issue, even though manager Ryne Sandberg stressed it during spring training. Revere has been the main culprit. The leadoff hitter failed in consecutive at-bats to put down a sacrifice bunt in an extra-inning loss to the New York Mets last weekend.

Revere also didn't take a proper lead from third base with Howard batting and the fielders shifted way over to the right in the eighth inning of a game the Phillies trailed by one run. Utley, who was on first, desperately tried to signal for Revere to take a bigger lead.

Those are just a few examples that prompted bench coach Larry Bowa to say in a radio interview that the Phillies have "players here playing in the big leagues who aren't playing like big leaguers."

As for pitching, Lee, Burnett and Hamels are 9-12 with a 3.74 ERA. That's not good enough for $62.5 million. Lee has missed four starts because of an elbow injury, which takes him off the trade market. Papelbon has been excellent in the bullpen, but the rest of the relievers haven't performed well. Mike Adams was solid in his setup role, but he just landed on the disabled list.

All that adds up to a team headed nowhere so far.

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