Dave Dombrowski’s take on Phillies, Joe Girardi and John Middleton

ATLANTA — A quarter of the way into the season, the Phillies are under .500 and staring at a bigger-than-a-break-basket deficit in the National League East.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has been around way too long to panic under these circumstances, but he does acknowledge one simple need:

“We need to play better,” he said before Monday night’s series opener against the NL East rival Atlanta Braves. The teams entered the game with identical 19-22 records and were eight games behind the division-leading New York Mets.

“We’re not happy with our record at this point,” Dombrowski said. “That can get better. But I think we have a good ballclub. I think we realize that. There’s a lot of good things, but we also need to play better.

“You don’t want to fall too far behind. We’re already eight games behind. That’s not good. It’s not insurmountable by any means. But I do think we have to go out there and play consistently well.”

Ownership pushed the payroll past the luxury tax threshold, to over $230 million with the offseason additions of closer Corey Knebel and sluggers Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Anything short of a playoff berth — a pretty low bar with six out of 15 teams qualifying in each league — will be a huge disappointment.

Dombrowski was asked how his boss, the ultra-competitive John Middleton, was handling the team’s slow start.

“He’s been fantastic,” Dombrowski…

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