ST. LOUIS -- The National League East has presented the Phillies an excellent opportunity coming out of the All-Star break.
Oh, how they have squandered it.
The Phillies lost Tuesday to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, 4-1, to drop to 49-51 overall and 1-3 since the break. Plenty of teams have lost to the Cardinals this season. They entered the night with the best record in baseball. But for a team hoping to convince the front office to buy, or at least stand pat, before the July 31 Trade Deadline, the Phillies have failed to take advantage of the mediocre or poor play from the first-place Braves and third-place Nationals.
"I'd say you're right," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who seemed more bothered than normal with this loss. "We're two games under .500 and the team ahead of us keeps losing, and we can't gain no ground. That's tough."
The Braves are 2-3 since the break.
The Nationals are 0-5.
The Phillies have six games remaining before the 4 p.m. ET Deadline next Wednesday. They have two games remaining against the Cardinals before they open a three-game series Friday against the Tigers, who lead the American League Central. The Phillies need to step up their play considerably or some familiar faces could be in different uniforms before the middle of next week.
"It would be nice if every time they lose we threw a win up there to cut down the deficit," Phillies right fielder Delmon Young said about the Braves. "We've got, what, two and a half months? If we can cut just a game a week, we'll be in first place by the end of the year. Unfortunately, we really don't know as players in the clubhouse how much time we have together, so we're trying to win as many games as possible right now."
"It doesn't matter who you play, you have to beat them," Manuel added. "Yeah, we're playing a good team and we're getting ready to play another good team. But we've got to play good enough to win some games. We didn't play good enough tonight. The Cardinals outplayed us."
The Phillies showed very little life Tuesday as the Cardinals showed why they are the class of baseball.
St. Louis manufactured a run against right-hander Jonathan Pettibone in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay started the inning with a pair of singles. Carlos Beltran's fielder's choice put runners on the corners with one out. Allen Craig then bounced a ball to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but the Phillies could not complete the double play and allowed Carpenter to score.
The Cardinals extended their lead in the fourth. Craig hit a leadoff double and scored when Yadier Molina hit a ball past third baseman Michael Young for a double. Molina advanced to third on a single from Matt Adams and scored on a single from David Freese to make it 3-0.
"That's definitely a tough lineup," said Pettibone, who dropped to 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA. "They were patient early on when I was kind of in control. Then, when things started going the other way, they started to be more aggressive, a couple of first-pitch knocks and stuff. They kind of teeter-tottered throughout the game, staying aggressive, then remaining patient. They have a good lineup throughout, and they got the best of us."
Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller allowed just three hits, one walk and struck out six in six scoreless innings for his 10th win of the season. He left only because he suffered a cramp in his calf.
The Phillies finally scored a run in the seventh, when Darin Ruf hit a two-out single and scored on John Mayberry Jr.'s double to left-center field, but the Cardinals extended their lead back to three with a run in the bottom of the inning.
The Phillies can only hope to regroup and win Wednesday. It will not be easy against Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook (6-4, 2.88 ERA).
"Guys are busting their butt," Young said. "Guys still get here early, do all the extra work and everything. We've got to find a way from seven o'clock to 10 o'clock to have all the hard work pay off."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.