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Sliding: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

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The Phillies lost their fifth straight game on Tuesday night. Is the end of the fun at hand?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

So is this it? Is this where the fun and games ends? Is there where reality starts to set in?

If so, hey, it's been a good ride here in 2016. We've seen a lot of fun moments, some improbable, dramatic wins, and the Phillies made some of the national writers eat a little crow along the way, too.

But after their demoralizing 5-1 loss to the Nationals in Philadelphia, their season-high fifth-straight defeat, there is concern that the march to a larger-than-expected total in the win column may be coming to an end.

The Phillies have lost 9 of their last 11 and face one of the best starting pitchers in baseball to finish up their three-game series on Wednesday, Max Scherzer. As it stands, the Phils are now 26-26 on the season, the first time they've been at .500 since April 26, when they were 10-10.

The offense was once again the main culprit in this one, notching just four hits and one run, with that lone score thanks to a single by David Lough and an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez in the 3rd inning. Hernandez would subsequently be erased at home on an infield grounder by Odubel Herrera, squandering a runner on 3rd with no outs.

The Phillies so rarely get a chance to score that when they run into an out on the bases, it's like a dagger to the heart.

The reasons for the offensive malaise go beyond just Ryan Howard, who got yet another start and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk, lowering his batting average to .154 on the season. He's now struck out in 33.5% of his plate appearances and has an OBP of .215. He has hit 1 home run since May 4.

Maikel Franco went 0-for-4 and has seen his on-base percentage drop under .300 (.293). He has 1 home run and 10 RBIs since May 11. Freddy Galvis went 0-for-4 and is hitting .251. Tyler Goeddel is down to .255. Cameron Rupp batted cleanup and has a .692 OPS. Cesar Hernandez is hitting .256.

There is no middle-of-the-order. Outside of Andres Blanco, there is no bench. Only Herrera, at the top of the lineup, is doing his job. The rest are struggling just to put any kind of sting on the ball with any consistency.

And let's not even talk about the impossibility of hitting home runs. It ain't happening.

The offense wasted another excellent performance from Aaron Nola, who went six innings without his best command still gave up just two earned runs (both on solo homers, to Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy) on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk. His ERA stands at 2.88.

The Nationals added three runs in the top of the 9th off Colton Murray, with back-to-back homers in that frame, including an inside-the-parker from Stephen Drew.

Not exactly how you draw it up in the locker room. Still, the one thing the Phils did well Tuesday night was flash a little leather, with Hernandez and Galvis turning a slick double play, and Herrera making a diving catch in center field to rob Ben Revere of a knock.

The 2016 season was never about wins and losses, and it still isn't. The point of this season is to watch the young players play, see them progress, and try to figure out who is going to be on the roster next season.

That includes playing Tommy Joseph a bit more, by the way.

The Phillies are in the midst of a really tough stretch, playing a bunch of good teams (Tigers, Cubs and Nationals), and aren't done facing some tougher competition in the days ahead. Things may not change for a while.

We should probably get used to some more ugly baseball for a little while longer.

This Phils team that has struggled to score runs, something everyone knew would happen. The one-run wins have suddenly dried up. The starting pitching hasn't been quite as dynamic as it was, and the bullpen has looked human too.

None of this should be startling to anyone. This is what we thought would happen. And of course, the Phils could get hot and make some noise once again.

But if this is the end of the winning, let's just hope the losing is at least a little bit entertaining moving forward.