You can talk all you want about a debilitated Brad Lidge, about the Phillies pitching staff's being hardly anything to write home about. But when their reasons for losing don't revolve around pitching, when impotence at the plate has become their Achilles heel, the time for panic is far from now. Or June through September, for that matter.

The month of October would be more appropriate. You know - the time when consolation prizes are handed out, which the Phillies know all too well.

The Phillies stank last week.

Everyone gets it, because it's too obvious to ignore.

When you're on a five-game losing streak heading into the weekend, having been outscored by 29-3 and shut out in a three-game series against the New York Mets - marking the first time that's happened since 2004, according to Stats LLC - it's a bit easier to remember this team departing Yankee Stadium last year stripped of its World Series crown than when the Phillies won it all a year earlier. When they look nothing like the team that won 92 and 93 games, respectively, the last two seasons.

"Those kinds of [championship] memories will never leave you," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel once said. "That's why players, coaches, managers, the whole team chase those dreams so hard. In this game, you look for something to grab, to call your own, that no one can take away from you. Just to have something to hold onto forever."

That's a beautiful thought - as long as Manuel knows that such introspection should be limited to off-season recreational activity.

It's all right to dream about Lidge's perfect season, his striking out Eric Hinske to bring Philadelphia its first World Series title since 1980, the bedlam that existed before, during, and after - making a case for this town as the greatest in America.

But dreams always get tainted by reality. Sometimes it's with injuries to J.A. Happ (a forearm strain since mid-April), or the one Lidge has been struggling with, seemingly forever, bringing attention to that $37 million extension he signed in 2008, or - more to the point - who elected to give him those dollars.

Reality can't help but have a riveting effect when the Phillies fail to score a run in 35 consecutive innings against starting pitchers. When they became the first team to do it since the horrid Kansas City Royals in 2004. When Ryan Howard is a major culprit, failing to record any RBIs in five straight games. Or when you're a team lacking a leader because your leadoff hitter was much more than anyone gave him credit for.

Through batting practice, team meetings, rain delays, and mounting losses, we've heard the Phillies talk about missing Jimmy Rollins. Perhaps screaming that out, loud and proud, will give the injured Rollins the respect he deserves.

There is a reason the Phillies have 17 stolen bases this season, second lowest in the league, and it's got Rollins' name written all over it.

You can't score if you can't run. Who doesn't know that? So you know when you start worrying, Philadelphia? When you're told Rollins isn't coming back this year. Not before.

Until then, you believe what Manuel says he believes: "We're going to hit," he told reporters the other day. "Right now, we're not hitting the ball. The balls that we're hitting are getting caught. That's what baseball is. We're going to come out of it. We can hit."

The Phillies can do a lot more than that if they get Rollins back.

They can run with Rollins. They can really hit with Howard, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley. With Roy Halladay, they can pitch, too (although it would've been nice to see both Halladay and Cliff Lee on the same roster). They can defend. They can pitch in spurts. And these Phillies have proved they know how to win.

The thing is, knowing is one thing, doing is another. What the Phillies have accomplished the last two seasons set the stage for what they can do.

Above all else, they displayed a bravado. It started with Rollins' telling the New York Mets that the Phillies would beat them in 2008, then going out and doing it. It ended with them beating all comers that year, and everyone but the New York Yankees in 2009.

Whatever the Phillies do in 2010 will not come down to their hitting. It'll come down to pitching, defense, and a little of that intangible quality Rollins instilled in this team just by his mere presence.

It's something to be rediscovered later on. October sounds just about right.

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or at sasmith@phillynews.com.