As the Phillies staggered through a horrific homestand - bad baseball interrupted by players in the emergency room and on the disabled list - a small voice in the back of your mind grew louder and more shrill:

This, the voice whispered, is why championship teams don't repeat.

While the Phillies were preparing to score one run against Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie, first baseman Ryan Howard was getting a CT scan on his head. Doctors were trying to rule out a sinus infection as the reason for Howard's two hospital trips over the weekend.

It would be hard to get the entire team into the scanner at once. If you could, the results would show these Phillies suffering from just about every problem common to defending champions.

Name the pitfall and it has befallen them: injuries, a drop-off from guys who had career years, higher intensity from opponents looking to beat the champs, the distracting trappings of success, and perhaps a bit of complacency.

This, the voice said more firmly, is why championship teams don't repeat.

The team that won the World Series last year was fueled by a fascinating combination of strong self-confidence and a burning need to prove itself. The confidence is still there. The need to prove something is not burning quite so bright.

Take away games against the Nationals and the Phillies have a losing record. They just went 1-8 in front of sellout crowds at Citizens Bank Park on this homestand. They take false comfort in maintaining first place in the National League East, as if they deserve credit for the scuffling Mets' inability to make a move on them.

It is true the Phillies had a losing record in June last year and then went on to win the World Series. It doesn't follow that a losing record this June means another championship.

During the long, mostly dreadful history of this franchise, plenty of bad Junes have preceded disappointing Septembers and idle Octobers. Last year's result was the exception, not the rule.

There's a difference between looking at last June as proof that a rebound is possible and looking at it as some kind of guarantee. There's no reason to panic, but there is reason to play with urgency.

This, the voice shouted, is why championship teams don't repeat.

Manager Charlie Manuel did what he could yesterday to light a spark, pushing an argument with first-base umpire Larry Vanover as far as he had to in order to get himself ejected in the eighth inning.

Shane Victorino followed with a double, but Chase Utley looked at a couple of strikes and then grounded weakly back to the pitcher to end the inning.

Utley's average dropped below .300 with a 0-for-3 afternoon. Jimmy Rollins is batting .217, with an on-base percentage of .261 - brutal numbers for the guy who is supposed to jump-start the offense.

Raul Ibanez, who improbably carried the team for the first two months, is on the disabled list. Then Howard got the wrong kind of hot - with a scary 104-degree fever.

"Somebody should wake up," Manuel said after the game. And, later: "Our big guys have to hit. Lately, we haven't been hitting."

The Phillies scored in just three innings while being swept by the Orioles. They got two runs in the first game, five runs in one inning in the second game, and Greg Dobbs' solo homer yesterday. That's not very good.

About this time last year, the Phillies lost six in a row and were not producing runs. Manuel responded by shaking up the lineup, batting Jayson Werth first, Utley second, and Rollins third. That might work for a day or two, but Manuel has to bank on the track records of the players whose names he writes in every day.

Those players, beginning with Rollins, have to snap themselves out of it.

In a way, the rest of the division is enabling them. If the Mets or Braves or Marlins could put pressure on the Phillies, that might bring on the urgency they lack. As it is, they get to feel secure after their worst homestand ever as a group.

They go on the road now, which could clear the air a bit. They figure to get Brad Lidge back in the closer's role, an instant psychological bounce that will last as long as Lidge remains effective. They need Ryan Madson to return to his set-up role without lasting scars from his sojourn into the closer's spot.

The Phillies can right this thing and hang onto first place the rest of the way. They just have to figure out that it isn't automatic, that last year is over, that it's up to them to make it happen.

Until they begin, that voice just keeps getting louder.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.