IT CAN'T just be one or two of them, and it can't be for just one at-bat here or one game there.

If the Phillies have any hope of making a playoff run, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell all have to get their bats together and keep them there for the last 35 games of the season.

Forget the notion that Phillies general manager Pat Gillick can wave a magic wand and find some help with a waiver-wire trade.

Unlike last season, when he managed to solidify the pitching rotation by acquiring Kyle Lohse from the Reds, nothing out there now can make enough of an impact.

The solution to what's wrong with the Phillies is already sitting in their clubhouse.

It's Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell.

Unless those four players, the ones who are supposed to be the heart of the Phillies lineup, start hitting the baseball consistently, this season is done.

Would it help to have more pitching? Of course it would.

Could the Phillies use an additional hitter off the bench? Of course they could.

But Gillick could find a way to address both concerns and it would not make much difference as long as Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell continue to hit as feebly as they have over the last few weeks.

Last night, the Phillies lost to the pathetic Washington Nationals, 4-3, and once again the puny effort from the Big Four stood out.

To be fair, Utley had two hits last night, including an RBI single, but the other three combined to go 1-for-12 with no runs scored or driven in.

It's astounding how small these guys have come up.

Over the last 10 games, Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell have gone 21-for-147 (.143) with 14 RBI.

With that combined lack of success from their top run-generators, it's no wonder that the Phillies have gone 3-7 in that period.

Considering Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell had contributed just one RBI, it's amazing the Phillies had actually entered last night with a three-game winning streak.

The eighth inning against the Nationals, who had lost 12 straight, was a microcosm of how undependable these guys have been.

With the Phillies down, 4-3, Jayson Werth led off with a walk, then Utley singled.

But Howard struck out for a major league-leading 167th time and Burrell hit into an inning-ending doubleplay.

An inning before, Rollins grounded out for the final out, leaving Geoff Jenkins on second base.

The Phillies simply can't win enough games to contend if those guys keep swinging like this.

Shane Victorino going to third after an infield single and a two-base throwing error and Carlos Ruiz hitting his first home run since June 4 is only going to get them so far.

"I think it's a funny game," manager Charlie Manuel said about the struggling offense. "I think you never know.

"We're capable of hitting. We've hit for the last 3 1/2 years and have a lot of the same guys. I know we can hit, but I can't tell you when it's going to get going. I think every guy in that room knows we can play better."

Time has just about run out on what the Phillies know.

With 35 games left and the New York Mets pushing their lead in the National League East to 2 1/2 games with a win over Atlanta last night, the Phillies have to start winning.

There's precious little time left for Howard to find the swing that has eluded him all season.

It doesn't matter that Manuel believes Rollins, whose 2007 MVP season seems eons ago, is still going to "be OK."

The Phillies need Burrell and Utley to show up night in and out, instead of just in sporadic stretches here and there.

Starting tonight, the Phillies have a stretch of 10 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mets and Chicago Cubs.

Unless they are counting on another late-September choke by the Mets, this is as close as they can get to "put up or shut up" time as it gets. It absolutely cannot happen unless Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell step up to the plate and start leading this club the way they are supposed to.

"I think our guys know exactly what they have to do," Manuel said. "They know where we are at, how many games we have to go and what we need to do to win."

That's good to hear, but how about Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell actually showing us how it's supposed to be done. *

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