(Jon Lieber had a stinky first inning in his first start since coming off the DL)

There say there are no atheists in fox holes, nor is there one in the manager’s chair in Philadelphia. From the Philadelphia Inquirers’ Todd Zolecki.

“If there’s a way for us to make a mistake, we find it,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after last night’s 3-2 loss to the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. “We’re definitely finding it.

“I don’t know if it’s you guys or the players or what, but somebody out there has got something against us. Or somebody’s not living right. If you guys are very religious, please go to church. Pray for us.”

The Phillies have lost eight straight series, and must beat the Pirates tonight and tomorrow afternoon to avoid their ninth straight series loss. That would be their worst stretch since 1997, when the Phillies lost 10 straight series from June 6 to July 13. Those Phillies went an incredible 23 straight series without a series victory – if a one-game set against Cincinnati is included, otherwise it’s 22 straight – from May 9 to July 27.

Those Phillies finished 68-94 and last in the National League East. These Phillies are on pace to finish 72-90, which would be their worst mark since they went 65-97 in 2000.

Could prayer help? Maybe. So far nothing else has.

Declaring the Phils’ acquisition of Aaron Rowand and departures of Jason Michaels and Kenny Lofton “added strikeouts to the lineup and stripped them of hitters who got on base and put the ball in play,”, Beerleaguer wonders where to place a hitter with Rowand’s unique mix of, uh, shortcomings.

Rowand brought a reputation for hardcore defense, but today, the 29-year-old center fielder is perhaps the oddest fit in the entire lineup. He has some power, but not clean-up power. He has some speed, but doesn™t get on base enough to lead off. He doesn™t hit for average, and he strikes out a lot.

Through no fault of his own, the Phillies simply don™t have excellent No. 2 hitters like they did last year in Jason Michaels and Kenny Lofton, and overall, they have too many hackers and not enough finesse contact hitters to put the ball in play. Their 633 strikeouts is fourth in baseball, and rising fast.