HOUSTON - Yes, the Phillies proved their talent by winning the World Series last year. And yes, they still hold a comfortable lead in their division.

But none of that soothed manager Charlie Manuel after yesterday's 4-3 loss to Houston sealed a four-game sweep by a mediocre team.

"If we continue playing like that, it's going to be hard for us to win," said Manuel, who spoke at greater length, and with more emotion, than he had after any game this season.

Sitting at his desk in the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, he made his anger clear.

"We did everything we could to lose," Manuel said. "You name it. Go back over each game. Any time we needed to hit, we didn't. Any time we needed to pitch, we didn't."

During this season's periodic losing streaks, many players have pointed to the team's reputation as intense at the most important moments. Manuel did not want to hear that yesterday.

"I hear some of them talking, saying we're a team that plays better when we have to," he said. "[Expletive] the last couple years. What the hell? That don't mean [expletive]. Last year is dead and gone. We play for today."

The weekend in Houston seemed to underscore every potential problem with the 2009 Phillies, and to create a few more.

The lineup failed to capitalize on opportunities. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels lost their starts. Brad Lidge had another blown save Saturday, his 10th. Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and J.A. Happ missed games with injuries.

And the Phils have failed to show that they can play as well with a September cushion as they can chasing the New York Mets.

"How come we couldn't play better now?" Manuel said. "Or are more relaxed now? Answer me that. And we're sitting in a better place."

The offense is the element of the team most capable of pleasing Manuel or earning his scorn.

"When I see a guy on third base and the batter hitting, you can tell that he is tight when he swings at a bad ball and it is a one-hopper or dribbler down third," he said. "Hell, I'd say something is wrong with how you think."

Despite hitting a home run yesterday and two singles the day before, Raul Ibanez has been virtually invisible for more than a month. Manuel said that loss of production had been crucial because of the Phils' composition.

"We need Raul to get his swing back," Manuel said, adding that with Utley "and Ibanez hitting the ball like he was the first half of the year, we've got two very professional hitters standing there."

"We've got Howard in the middle of them," he said. "We become more dangerous as far as knocking in runs in the middle of our lineup, no doubt. Raul was hitting the ball all over the field, and he's hitting home runs."

Utley did not subscribe to the notion that his team took poor at-bats yesterday.

"I don't know about pressing," he said. "I think we swung the bats a lot better than the score indicated."

Jayson Werth still felt comfortable with the team's position in the standings.

"We're still a first-place team in the East, and a pretty good one at that," he said.

Manuel was not nearly as sanguine.

"When I get up in the morning, I feel good," he said. "When the game is over, the last four, five days, I haven't felt too damn good."