PHILADELPHIA -- Gabe Kapler returned Monday to his office in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park and flicked on the two flat-screen televisions that face his desk.
The two screens, as they always do, flashed the Phillies schedule. And they reminded the manager, riding high from a successful road trip, how challenging the task ahead would be.
"I would say it is a very challenging stretch," Kapler said before opening a four-game series with Milwaukee which ended Thursday with the thud of an 11-3 loss.
The Phillies lost three of four to the Brewers for their first series loss in three weeks. It was the beginning of a stretch of 20 games in 21 days against the Brewers, Rockies, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodgers. And the Phillies began it with a rather four-day stretch.
Zach Eflin, who had two complete games in his last three starts, was rather ordinary. The lineup, tweaked to move Bryce Harper to the No. 2 spot, had just four hits. The electric but unpredictable Seranthony Dominguez allowed a three-run homer on his third pitch of the seventh inning to make a third straight loss feel certain. Rookie Edgar Garcia sealed it by allowing two runs in the eighth, one of which scored on a bases-loaded walk.
The lineup scored three or fewer runs in three of the four games. Those three losses included just five extra-base hits. The Phillies built a lineup that they expected could thump opponents enough to overcome the deficiencies on their mound. But it was the Brewers this week who did the thumping. Christian Yelich homered twice on Thursday and Ryan Braun reached base five times as he continues to haunt the Phillies.
The Phillies are still in first place atop the National League East. But it will be this stretch that could determine how long they can stay there.
The Rockies, who took three of four from the Phillies earlier this month, visit South Philly this weekend and are 17-10 since starting the season 3-12. The Phillies then travel to play the Cubs, who are 15-6 at Wrigley Field and the owners of the second-best record in the National League. They then visit Milwaukee for a rematch with the Brewers, return home to play the Cardinals, and fly west to play the National League-leading Dodgers.
The Phillies don't have a day off until Memorial Day and they don't play a team with a losing record until June 7. After a strong start to the season, the challenge is here.
"There is excellent competition out there," Kapler said. "This stretch is going to be a grind. There's no sugarcoating."
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