MIAMI — Not long after the Phillies' plane touched down here Sunday night, Tropical Storm Gordon whipped through South Florida, bringing gusty winds and driving rain overnight and into Monday morning.
Really, though, the storm clouds have been gathering over the Phillies for a while now.
When the Miami Marlins last saw them, the Phillies were sitting pretty atop the National League East with a strong chance of making the playoffs. But as the teams meet again here this week, the Phils are on the outside of the playoff picture and fading fast.
On Monday, they lost for the 17th time in 26 games, falling, 3-1, in front of an announced Labor Day crowd of 7,771 at Marlins Park. Once again, the offense was muted. Starter Vince Velasquez gave up three runs in the second inning, and there was no coming back from that. The Phillies hit a few balls hard but generated nothing close to a rally.
A silver lining? Try this: The division-leading Atlanta Braves lost, too, 8-2 to the Boston Red Sox. So, the Phillies remained four games off the pace in the NL East with 25 left to play.
"We do our part, we'll win," Velasquez said. "We've done it before. I think there's a turning point somewhere, and I think we'll find it soon. Probably tomorrow."
Said manager Gabe Kapler: "Twenty-five games is a lot of games. If we get rolling in that time period, there's nothing that can stop us."
Sure, and these Phillies have had good 25-game stretches before. But even if they go 16-9, as they did in the season's first 25 games, the Braves would have to go only 12-13 to forge a tie.
And if the Phillies don't start scoring more runs, the whole conversation will be moot anyway.
Not counting the ever-changing pitcher's spot, Kapler has assembled 113 different batting orders this season. That isn't a particularly high number. By comparison, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers have had 126 and 134 different orders, respectively. The days of making a lineup card out of stone are long gone.
Lately, though, Kapler's batting orders have taken on a chameleon-like quality. Odubel Herrera bats third one day and doesn't play the next. After batting leadoff for most of the season, Cesar Hernandez gets moved to the No. 3 spot, then bumped all the way down to ninth.
"I'm not sure consistency of a lineup leads to good results all the time," Kapler said. "You look at some of the lineups that have been mixing and matching across baseball, a lot of them, the ones that have been mixed up the most are the ones that are also the most successful. I think, in this particular case, it makes sense to give our guys the best chance to succeed."
But nothing is working for the Phillies. They have scored a total of five runs in their last four games. They entered play Monday ranked 11th in the league in runs, 10th in on-base percentage and 13th in batting average. No NL team has ever made the playoffs with a sub-.240 team average. The Phillies are batting .237.
In the opener against the Marlins, they were held to four hits by three pitchers, including starter Jose Urena, who entered with a 4-12 record and a 4.56 ERA. Their only extra-base hit was Asdrubal Cabrera's homer in the second inning. They were unable to get more than one hit in any inning, and save for the home run, they didn't advance a runner beyond first base.
"I thought some of our guys had some good at-bats that ended up with nothing to show for it," Kapler said, noting hard-hit balls by Carlos Santana in the sixth inning and Rhys Hoskins in the eighth.
But it's tough to win that way, and for a month now, they haven't been. During their 9-17 stretch, the Phillies have scored 92 runs, an average of 3.5 per game. So, when Velasquez gave up a two-out, two-run double to Rafael Ortega on a first-pitch change-up in the Marlins' three-run second inning, a 3-1 deficit felt so much deeper.
"Ortega kind of pretty much made a big difference," Velasquez said. "I should've challenged him a little bit more with the fastball. First time facing hitters, you should just attack them."
And if the Phillies were generating offense, Velasquez would have greater margin for those kind of errors. With 25 games left, time is running out for the bats to get on track.
"I don't think we're running out of time. I don't believe that," Kapler said. "We have plenty of time to get hot. If we get hot, we can win games in bunches."