There are plenty of reasons to doubt that this Phillies team can hang around in the National League East race until the nights get cool in September.

Three of them stood out Thursday night.

  • Defense has been a season-long problem and it cost the Phillies a run in the first inning.
  • The back end of the starting rotation has been a problem all season and it was again in this one.
  • So was the team’s inconsistent offense, which had just two hits through six innings, one of which didn’t leave the infield.

Not looking like anything close to a playoff team, the Phillies opened a huge eight-game home-stand with a 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves stole a run on the Phillies’ sloppy defense in the first inning. They put four on the board when Dansby Swanson smacked a two-out grand slam in the third, and another when Orlando Arcia clubbed one out in the fourth to make it a 6-0 game.

All six of those runs were allowed by lefty Matt Moore, who violated the old starting pitcher’s commandment about keeping their team in the game and giving it a chance to win.

Moore, signed for $3 million in the offseason to help stabilize the back end of the Phillies’ rotation, has a 6.23 ERA in eight starts.

Let’s move on another weakness, the Phillies’ offense (hooray)!

The offense Thursday night produced just three hits in 21 chances with a runner in scoring position in a pair of losses the previous two nights at Yankee Stadium, didn’t get going until the seventh inning when it capitalized on three hits and a walk to score two runs. By that time, it was too late. 

For the night, Phillies hitters went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

After opening the month of July with 10 wins in 14 games to improve to two games over .500, the Phillies have lost three straight to fall a game under.

They are now tied for second place in the division with the Braves. Both teams are 47-48, four games behind the division-leading New York Mets. The two teams play the second of their important four-game series Friday night — Zack Wheeler will oppose lefty Max Fried — and the loser will fall into third place.

Though there are more than two months of baseball left, this is a crucial time in the schedule as the trade deadline is just a week away. The Phillies’ hot start in July had management looking to add pitching, and that still may be the case, but things could change if the team doesn’t turn things around quickly.

The team did not get back to Philadelphia until 3:00am ET Thursday morning so manager Joe Girardi gave catcher J.T. Realmuto and left fielder Andrew McCutchen the night off. That late arrival was only part of his reasoning. He also wanted to get some extra lefty bats in the lineup against Atlanta righty Charlie Morton. Odubel Herrera came off the injured list and started in left field and switch-hitter Andrew Knapp started behind the plate.

Both were involved in an unusual play in the first inning. Herrera was slow getting the ball back to the infield on a hit by Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies, who had gone to third, attentively broke home on Herrera’s lazy throw to second base. Albies would have been out by a mile at the plate, but Jean Segura’s throw short-hopped Knapp, allowing the run to score.

Moore hurt himself more in the third inning when he gave up a two-out single to Albies. He then gave up a hit to Freeman and a walk to Austin Riley. Swanson then clubbed an 0-1 fastball, 92-mph and right down the pipe, over the left-field wall for a grand slam. Arcia’s homer an inning later made it 6-0.

Reliever Mauricio Llovera put a fitting cap on the Phillies pitching experience when he walked in a run in the ninth.