NEW YORK - On Charlie Manuel's desk sat the lineup card, or at least the remnants of it. Instead of a full sheet of poster board, there was a pile of rectangles stacked on top of each other, the evidence of the previous 3 hours having been reduced to scrap paper.

Some lineup cards end up in Cooperstown. Others end up in picture frames.

This one, it is safe to say, will not be one of them.

The Phillies didn't just lose to the Mets last night. They were shut out. For the second time in a row. For the third time in four games.

They lost their fourth straight game, falling to 26-19 and allowing the Braves to creep to within 2 1/2 games in the NL East. They have allowed a Mets team that just a week ago was dealing with speculation about their manager's future to move to within three games of them in the division.

In losing six of their last eight, they have been outscored 37-15, including 13-0 over the last 2 days.

After last night's 5-0 loss, when the Phillies stranded all seven of their baserunners, a clubhouse full of players and a frustrated manager were unable to provide an answer, mostly because there isn't much to say other than what you already know.

Right now, they couldn't manufacture a run if you gave them scissors and construction paper and spotted them an "R" and a "U."

They have all the rhythm of a bowling ball in the dryer, all the spunk of a hibernating bear.

Switzerland has fielded armies that look more dangerous.

Manuel was well aware of all of this, and last night he had a little chat with his team. It isn't clear what, exactly, was said, or in what manner, or whether it was any different from the other meetings he has called over the past couple of seasons.

But it was an indication that he had seen enough.

"I wanted to say something," Manuel said. "I felt like it was time. I talked to our team, and that's between us."

But what, exactly, is wrong? Is it approach? Is it energy? Is it execution? Is it mind-set?

"When you don't score runs and you don't hit, a lot of times you look dead," Manuel said. "But at the same time, I'd like for us to pick it up a little bit. I'd like for us to be more intense, get a little fire about us."

It is a chicken-and-egg dilemma that the Phillies have pondered plenty of times over the past couple of seasons. Does energy beget offense or does offense beget energy? And why does this team often find itself finishing the second month of the season lacking in both?

"This can be a frustrating game at times," second baseman Chase Utley said. "But in the past we've done a good job of being resilient and battling through the bad times and overcoming that."

There have been several times over the past couple of nights when the Phillies' offense has looked poised to break through. Last night, it came in the sixth inning, when Shane Victorino led off with a single and later seemed destined to score on a one-out single by Utley. But as a charging Victorino rounded third, coach Sam Perlozzo held him up, a move that, given the situation, seemed a prudent call. Why risk killing a rally against the strong-armed Jeff Francoeur when one run does not a rally make? But then Ryan Howard struck out swinging, and Jayson Werth flew out to shallow rightfield, and the Phillies' failed to score for their 15th consecutive inning.

It has been the story of the past couple of nights. Unlike losses to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield on Saturday and Sunday, the Phillies have put runners in scoring position. But they are 2-for-16 in those situations.

"Every now and then you get a gut-check in this game," said veteran leftfielder Raul Ibanez, who had last night off as Manuel chose to start the righthanded-hitting Ben Francisco. "Every one is going to go through it. Every team is going to go through it. It might sound cliche-ish, but it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get back up."

They have been knocked down:

* They have failed to score a run against any of their last four opposing starters, a 28-inning stretch that ended with three shutouts and a three-run ninth inning in an out-of-hand game against the Red Sox.

* They were shutout on back-to-back days for the first time since Aug. 7-8, 2008, against the Marlins and the Pirates.

* The last team to shut them out on back-to-back nights? The Arizona Diamondbacks . . . in 1999.

* Each of the last three pitchers they have faced has picked up his first victory of the season as a starter. That includes lefthander Hisanori Takahashi, who made his second start of the year last night, after going 3-1 as a reliever.

History says the Phillies will score their next run before the end of the season.

But Manuel wouldn't mind it coming sooner.