PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies left Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon at a low point.
They dropped to 17-21 after a 3-0 loss to the Angels. They are four games under .500 for the first time this season following seven losses in their last nine games, including three shutout losses and inconsistent play throughout that span.
"I'm not a negative person, so I'm not going to sit here and pout and complain and point fingers," said Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett, who struggled through five innings, but minimized the damage to three runs.
The team's three straight losses showed their pitching, hitting and defensive inconsistencies:
Closer Jonathan Papelbon raised eyebrows inside and outside the clubhouse Sunday, when he informed manager Ryne Sandberg he could not pitch because of "soreness." Papelbon's surprising unavailability forced Cole Hamels to throw a career-high 133 pitches and Roberto Hernandez to pitch in relief despite throwing 99 pitches in a start Friday. The beleaguered bullpen eventually blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning and the game in a 5-4 loss in 11 innings.
A victory would have allowed the Phillies to sweep the Mets and improve to 18-18.
Cliff Lee on Tuesday became the first Phillies pitcher since Brett Myers in 2003 to lose a game despite not allowing an earned run. He allowed four unearned runs, thanks to two errors from Cody Asche in the sixth inning. The Phillies lost, 4-3.
Burnett allowed seven hits, three runs, five walks and struck out six in five innings Wednesday. He threw 113 pitches, while Angels right-hander Garrett Richards dominated. He allowed five hits and struck out eight in seven scoreless innings.
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first when Albert Pujols hit a two-out double into the right-field corner and scored on Raul Ibanez's single to center field.
Burnett allowed consecutive singles to Hank Conger and Grant Green to start the second before he struck out Luis Jimenez and Garrett Richards. But Efren Navarro hit a 3-2 fastball up the middle to score Conger to make it 2-0.
Burnett threw 49 pitches through two innings and 78 through the third, when he allowed another run to make it 3-0.
"I know I need to make pitches," Burnett said. "I know I left balls over the plate. And giving free passes a lot. Just throw strikes. I mean, name positives, I will. Cody had a game [Tuesday] night you want to forget about and he came up today and made a big double play for me[(in the third], so that's a positive. Bullpen threw four scoreless. That's a positive. That's the things I look at."
Richards had allowed only three baserunners through five innings when Jimmy Rollins singled and Chase Utley doubled to put runners on second and third with one out in the sixth. But Ryan Howard struck out swinging and Marlon Byrd popped out in foul territory to end the threat.
"On the offensive side we have two, three, four guys a day capable of doing the job," Sandberg said. "I'd say Rollins, Utley, Howard and Byrd have been fairly consistent the last couple weeks, doing a pretty good job of hitting, at least two of them, three of them. Our better players are doing a good job and they've been fairly consistent swinging the bats. We've got to get better as a full lineup."
The troubling part is the Phillies cannot point to injuries like they have in the past as a source for their struggles.
Everybody is healthy.
"Just the consistency of it, putting everything together for a string of games," Sandberg said of the team's struggles. "We show signs of it in all areas. We just have to be more consistent in all the areas, put it all together."
Especially against American League teams. They are 1-8 in Interleague Play.
Especially at home. They are 6-11 at Citizens Bank Park.
"We just have to put it all together," Byrd said. "If it isn't all together, that's how you lose games. When it comes together, you win games. That's the bottom line: pitching, defense and timely hitting is the key to winning games."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.