PHILADELPHIA -- The slow march Wednesday to an inevitable outcome commenced with A.J. Burnett's 15th pitch. Albert Pujols, one of the game's greatest hitters, smashed a double to right. Dan Baker announced Raul Ibanez's name, and Phillies fans howled to celebrate his return. Ibanez, 41 with a tenuous Angels roster spot, slapped a single to score Pujols.
There was silence in the first inning of a 3-0 Phillies loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Apathy enveloped Citizens Bank Park -- except for when Mike Trout batted -- on an overcast afternoon.
The Phillies are 17-21, just as they were after 38 games a season ago. They have been outscored by 34 runs. They are stuck in a perpetual slog to mediocrity. They lost Sunday when the bullpen failed. Poor defense generated defeat Tuesday. And, on Wednesday, the offense mustered five hits.
A healthy roster has changed nothing. This season is not a quarter complete, but it bears the same resemblance to the previous two that concluded without postseason action.
"I expect to win," Burnett said. "We all do. When things don't go your way, that's when character comes out, shows you who you really are."
The Phillies are four games under .500, a low point in 2014. Los Angeles swept this two-game series. The loudest cheers in two days were for Trout, the Millville, N.J., native. He walked, stole a base, and later tripled. But he did not score a run in two games.
Garrett Richards presented more trouble than the 22-year-old superstar. Richards was dominant in seven shutout innings. He lumbered to a 4.42 ERA over his first three major-league seasons but has transformed into one of baseball's best strikeout pitchers in 2014. He fanned eight. The Phillies grounded into 10 outs.
The 25-year-old righthander discovered more speed this season. His fastball sat Wednesday between 95 and 97 m.p.h. His average velocity in 2014 is more than 1 m.p.h. faster than in 2013. That made him one of the game's hardest-throwing starters.
He featured a devastating curveball that twisted a handful of Phillies batters into easy outs. And, at times, Richards relied on his slider. That is a pitch that looks like his fastball until it dips 10 m.p.h. slower.
The Phillies threatened in the sixth when Jimmy Rollins singled and Chase Utley doubled. Ryan Howard twice swung and missed at a Richards slider, striking out. It was a nasty offering. A 96-m.p.h. Richards fastball sawed Marlon Byrd's bat into pieces and resulted in an inning-ending pop out.
Richards reminded Byrd of a young Jered Weaver, a three-time all-star pitcher. Manager Ryne Sandberg said his team's lack of history with Richards -- Tony Gwynn Jr. was the only hitter to ever face him -- did not help matters.
"He's just one of those guys who is really coming into his own," Byrd said.
The lineup was comatose. Byrd, Domonic Brown and Cody Asche were hitless. Ben Revere finished one groundout shy of an infield cycle; he tapped outs to the pitcher, second baseman, third baseman and shortstop. His on-base percentage dipped to an unsightly .284. Revere, as the leadoff hitter, bats more than any Phillies player. But he makes more outs than anyone else.
"We've got to get better as a full lineup," Sandberg said. "Ben's a catalyst at the top of the order when he gets on base. He hasn't gotten on base the last couple of games."
Burnett established an ominous tone. He contributed his second straight clunker. He required 78 pitches to record nine outs. The 37-year-old righty walked five in five innings and escaped immense damage with inning-ending double plays in the third and fifth.
"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."
Brown whiffed at a Joe Smith fastball to consummate another defeat. The time was 4:16 p.m., and this looked all too familiar.
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