AT THE CONCLUSION of Sunday's game, Cliff Lee had a 3.18 ERA, which ranked 11th best in the National League. Lee's 6.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in the league, significantly higher than anyone else.

But in perhaps the most puzzling story line in an underachieving season in South Philly, the Phillies have been a losing team when Lee has taken the mound.

Following Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Atlanta, the Phils fell to 12-16 in Lee's 28 starts this season.

And the latest loss wasn't different than most of the ones that preceded it: Lee allowed a couple of runs, pitched deep into the game and had to talk about what went wrong afterward.

"Cliff's definitely had an unordinary season," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's had a tough one."

Depending on how the Phils align their rotation for the final 10 games, Lee may have one or two starts remaining in his odd 2012 campaign.

Although he struggled from mid-May through June, Lee didn't collect his first win until July 4. In the season's first 3 months, the Phillies lost 10 of the 13 games Lee started.

The Phils only recently saw that trend reversed, winning five straight Lee starts before Sunday's loss.

"I've seen seasons like that," Manuel said. "I've seen Denny McLain when he was traded to Washington from Detroit. If I'm not mistaken he was 4-20 or something. There have been a lot of guys that have had tough seasons."

With all due respect to the manager, McLain had a 4.28 ERA in 32 starts in that 1971 season with Washington. McLain held the opponents to two runs or fewer in nine of his 32 starts.

Lee, meanwhile, has held the opposition to two earned runs or less in 16 of his 28 starts. The Phillies are 8-8 in those games.

If the Phils even won half of those eight games, perhaps they would be at the front of the wild-card race rather than falling out of it.

"You can go back and what-if this and what-if that with a lot of things," Lee said. "Obviously with the way my season has gone individually, you can do that, and there are a lot of strange things that have happened . . . but it kind of is what it is.

"Like I've said a million times, all I can control is what I can control, and give the team a chance to win every time. For the most part I felt like I did that today. We just weren't able to get it done."

Rotation question

The Phillies did not appear to have any more clarity on how they'll configure their rotation at the end of the weekend than they did at the start of it.

With Monday's day off, they can configure it so they wouldn't need a fifth starter (rookie Tyler Cloyd) until Saturday in Miami. But following a weekend that saw them fall further out of contention and with Roy Halladay's health an issue again, it was unclear how they'll align their pitchers for the final nine games.

Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick will start Tuesday and Wednesday. Beyond that, the Phillies haven't announced their probable pitchers, lending some credence to the idea that they could shut down Halladay.

Halladay was knocked out of Saturday's game after giving up seven runs 1 2/3 innings, the second shortest start of his career. Afterward, Halladay said he was checked out by a doctor Friday for spasms in his shoulder.

Halladay spent 2 months on the disabled list this summer with a right lat injury.

"I'm sure they'll be checking him out, I'm sure [team physician Michael] Ciccotti will have a look at him," Manuel said.

Since the Phils could keep Cloyd in the rotation in place of Halladay, they only would have one other game for which they'd have to find a pitcher if they decide to shelf their Opening Day starter. Jeremy Horst and B.J. Rosenberg could be options if the Phillies went the route of a bullpen game, which didn't sound like an enticing option to Manuel.

"Right now, our starters are who they are," Manuel said. "We got guys in the bullpen that can throw two innings. That would be tough for us to patch a bullpen together."

Outfield help

If the Phillies move forward with the idea of moving Chase Utley to third base to get Freddy Galvis back on the field at second in 2013, they're going to need to upgrade their offense in the outfield.

But don't think they'll ignore defense as a factor when they scour the free-agent and trade markets this winter.

Although they haven't missed his offense, the Phils have missed the ground three-time Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino had been covering in centerfield for the last 4 1/2 years. It showed Sunday.

John Mayberry Jr., who became the everyday centerfielder when Victorino was traded 2 months ago, twice fumbled a ball at the wall in the fourth inning and then awkwardly dove at another an inning later. The first play resulted in an error, Mayberry's first in 51 games in centerfield.

But when asked about Mayberry's defense in center earlier this month, Manuel used the word "fine" and then curiously volunteered the names of two soon-to-be-free agent, superior centerfielders: B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn.

Manuel was asked again about Mayberry in center following Sunday's game.

"I think he was having trouble," he said. "Maybe the ball was carrying, you'd have to ask him. But he made some mistakes. But we had other mistakes."