With three teams barely above .500 setting the pace, the NL East is taking shape as a winnable division. The Philadelphia Phillies are still managing to fall considerably behind.
Losers of eight of nine, the Phillies return home Tuesday night to begin a three-game series with the San Diego Padres.
The six-game homestand also includes three with the Chicago Cubs, providing Philadelphia a prime opportunity to put its recent struggles behind it against two teams toward the bottom of the NL. The Phillies (25-36), though, are now down there with them with Sunday's 4-1 loss in Cincinnati serving as the latest reminder.
"Everybody has to have the same mentality, not just like one, two or three guys," catcher Carlos Ruiz told the team's official website. "And as a team we have to stay together and we have to believe that we can turn around everything."
A.J. Burnett is just as frustrated with his own recent work, but he'll have a chance to turn it around against the light-hitting Padres (28-35), who have scored 12 runs while batting .127 in seven games this month.
Burnett (3-5, 4.41 ERA) is 0-2 with 17 earned runs allowed in his last three starts, but his struggles extend back for nearly half of his starts now. Over his last six, he's 1-4 with a .7.25 ERA.
In Wednesday's 8-4 loss to Washington, the right-hander surrendered a season-high eight earned runs and 10 hits in six innings.
"For somebody who harps on shutout innings, I've been pretty (bad) at it," said Burnett, who has issued 10 walks in his last two starts. "Sorry about the language, but I have been. I will be better. Guys throw up runs, you have to put up zeros after that. That's how you stop it. That's how you get the momentum on your side."
Burnett was much better last season against San Diego, going 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA in two starts for Pittsburgh.
Carlos Quentin, who is 0 for 20 over his last eight games, is 6 for 16 with a home run and two doubles versus Burnett. Will Venable is 5 for 13 with a homer and a double.
San Diego would gladly welcome those kind of numbers after being shut out for the second time in three games in Sunday's 6-0 loss to Washington.
The Padres now hand the ball to Ian Kennedy, who's looking to win a fourth straight start. The right-hander has a 2.00 ERA and .177 opponent batting average in those games, including Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh. Kennedy (5-6, 3.39) limited the Pirates to two runs while striking out seven in six innings.
Kennedy credits some of the success to his batterymate. Rene Rivera's catcher ERA is 2.75, which is a run better than Yasmani Grandal's.
"I think I've shook him only five times in the last three starts," Kennedy told the team's official website.
His career numbers against Philadelphia are in line with his recent success, as Kennedy is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in five starts.
Jimmy Rollins (4 for 12), Chase Utley (3 for 11) and Marlon Byrd (4 for 16) have all left the park once against Kennedy while Ryan Howard is 0 for 12.
Philadelphia promoted hard-throwing reliever Ken Giles from Triple-A Lehigh Valley before the series. The 23-year-old right-hander had a 1.20 ERA in 13 games with 29 strikeouts in just 15 innings, though he has tempered expectations against big-league competition.
"I'm not perfect," Giles said. "I'm not a complete project yet, but I'm only going to get better with experience."