PHILADELPHIA -- Count Ryan Howard among the most optimistic people to leave Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon.
"It's early," Howard said. "We'll be OK."
But most of the sellout crowd that watched the Phillies lose a 5-0 contest to the New York Mets left with a much different feeling. The Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in six of their first eight games this season, and there is concern that without Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup, things might continue this way until the Phillies fall far enough from postseason contention that their returns no longer matter.
Of course, it is just eight games. And the Phillies (3-5) have been in slumps like this before.
And yes, they have had slow starts like this before. They started 4-11 in 2007, 8-10 in '08 and 6-8 in '09. They won the National League East all three seasons.
"I hate to use the word 'early' because I come to the ballpark and I want to win every day," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think you guys know that. My main priority is to win [the current day's] game. But at the same time, there's no sense in panicking. We're going to score some runs. I'm going to tell you something: We're going to compete, and we're going to hold the fort until we get our guys back."
The Phillies talked a lot about upgrading or improving their offense as soon as Howard recorded the final out in Game 5 of the 2011 NL Division Series. But other than some improvements on the bench, the Phillies essentially returned the same lineup in 2012, only without its No. 3 and 4 hitters.
Those are tremendous losses, but the Phillies aren't helping themselves. They actually entered the afternoon ranked fourth in the National League with a .250 average, but were just 13th in the league with a .286 on-base percentage. The Phillies have walked just four times in their past five games.
In addition, the Phillies have walked one or fewer times five times in eight games. It is a very small sample size, but that puts them on pace for 101 games with one or fewer walks. To put that in perspective, during the Phillies' run of five consecutive National League East championships they had one or fewer walks 20 times in 2007, 24 times in '08, 28 times in '09, 26 times in '10 and 27 times in '11.
The Phillies have had just 13 extra-base hits next to 52 singles this season. Combine that with very few people getting on base any other way, and it is understandable why they are finding runs to be scarce.
"We've got guys that have played for a long time," Manuel said. "You can look at how much they have walked in the past. We definitely don't teach walking, but we teach getting good balls to hit and working the count. If it's a 3-2 pitch, be patient enough and know the strike zone enough. Don't chase balls over your head or in the dirt. That's basically what hitting is.
"There's no way that we ever teach walking. By knowing the game, you're going to walk, swing at good pitches and get strikes and balls to hit. If you haven't done that in the past, it's pretty hard."
The Mets jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when David Wright, who had not played since Monday because of a fractured right pinkie finger, crushed a first-pitch fastball to center field for a home run off Phillies right-hander Vance Worley.
Worley loaded the bases in the third inning on a walk to Daniel Murphy and singles by Wright and Ike Davis. He almost avoided a disaster when Jason Bay bounced into a double play, which allowed Murphy to score. But Worley threw a first-pitch slider to Lucas Duda, who smacked the ball over the right-field wall for a two-run homer that gave the Mets a 4-0 lead.
The Phillies had runners on first and second with one out in the first inning, but Hunter Pence bounced into an inning-ending double play. The Phillies had just three hits the rest of the afternoon. Only one of those runners got into scoring position.
"You go through periods of time where nothing you do is wrong and you're always centering the ball," John Mayberry Jr. said. "Then you go through others when there is a little drought."
This drought has been an especially frustrating one. It comes at the beginning of the season, when everything is magnified, and generating offense had been the focal point of the offseason and Spring Training.
"It takes a while sometimes," Manuel said. "I still think we can score some runs. I think we'll definitely have a better offense than you've seen. I know we've got better than that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.