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Phillies get clobbered as frustration sets in

They went meekly in an 8-1 loss to the Rockies. The Phils have lost 18 of their last 22 games.

These are the nights, in a month full of them, that can test even the most patient. A haze floated Monday night above a half-full stadium, and it was hard to see progress. It is there, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. But no one can dispute that the Phillies have underperformed.

The frustration swelled during an 8-1 loss to Colorado, the National League's surprising pacesetter. Here, a peek at the seventh inning, which began with Aaron Altherr's second double of the game:

Tommy Joseph swung and missed at two pitches out of the zone for the first out. Maikel Franco wildly whiffed at a slider in the dirt and returned to the dugout with a soundtrack of scattered boos. Odubel Herrera tapped a roller toward third base on an awkward swing that ended the inning. He stepped on first, removed his red Phillies helmet, and smashed it on the ground.

So the Phillies, a team in transition, lugged another loss to bed. They have lost 18 of their last 22. They have matched their worst 42-game start to a season since 2000.

"We had three hits yesterday," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had three hits today. You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

This season is about killing time. No one wants to say it aloud, but that is the gray area occupied by these Phillies. They will not sacrifice a regular player yet, although $9 million outfielder Michael Saunders batted eighth Monday, and that is about as close as the Phillies have come to a sea change.

There is a great deal of baseball still to be played in 2017. That is the perspective the Phillies have adopted upstairs in the executive suites and the basement clubhouse.

Three of their most important pieces - Franco, Herrera, and Cesar Hernandez - have not produced in May. They were 0 for 10 in Monday's loss. They own a combined .225 batting average, a .282 on-base percentage, and a .297 slugging percentage this month.

"I'm not ready to call it regression," Klentak said before Monday's game. "I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general. Some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency - but, especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression.

"I do think building a team that performs consistently is very important. I think when we look around the league and we see the teams that year in and year out that are competing for championships, they're consistent. They might have a player that goes 0 for 4 or 0 for 8 over a two-game stretch, but they don't go 0 for 20 or 0 for 25. They somehow figure out a way. And those are some of the things we need our players to start doing, too."

The Phillies did not have a solution for Rockies righthander Jeff Hoffman, a pitcher drafted ninth overall in 2014, who fired fastballs that averaged 96 mph. The Phillies picked seventh that year and went with Aaron Nola, a fine pitching prospect, too. Their career arcs could generate a provocative debate for the years to follow.

"I felt like we all made good contact with the ball and they made some nice plays," Hernandez said, through a team interpreter. "It was kind of unfortunate, but definitely not one of the best pitchers we've faced."

For now, these Phillies are what they are. The search for a pebble, no matter how small, is what guides the decision makers each night. That is a worthwhile but sometimes agonizing endeavor.

"I'm getting frustrated, too," Klentak said. "There is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record. We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch."