Phillies' September slide continues as Nola struggles and offense fizzles


CHICAGO -- Just when you thought it was going to be a September to remember for Aaron Nola, the old demons surfaced again.

One bad inning. One bad loss.

Make that one very bad 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night for a Phillies team that is struggling so badly to lock down its first playoff berth in a decade that you now have to wonder if they can do it at all.

The Phils have lost nine of their last 12 and their hold of the final NL wild-card spot is down to a half-game.

Not exactly what you'd call a finishing kick as they've fallen to 10-13 in September with eight games remaining.

Nola was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but that was only part of the reason the Phillies lost.

The offense has generated just three runs in losing back-to-back nights to the Cubs. In this latest loss, the Phillies went 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.

Is the pressure of the playoff race getting the best of these hitters?

"I don't know," manager Rob Thomson said. "I think they're trying to do too much at times. I'm not sure if that's pressure, but I think there's other times during the season when they try to do too much. We're getting a lot of baserunners. We just didn't come through with the big hit. We've had stretches like that before. We'll come out of it.

"We have to fight through this and keep moving forward and that's what this group usually does. We'll just stay positive, keep it simple and get back to basics. When we're at the plate, get good pitches to hit and use the whole field.

"Hitting with runners in scoring position, we are the best in the league (an MLB-best .274 entering Wednesday) over the course of the year. We're just not doing it right now, but my sense is we will."

A pair of Cubs rookies took it to the Phils on Wednesday night.

In just his third big-league start, right-hander Hayden Wesneski held the Phillies to a run over five-plus innings. Christopher Morel's three-run homer in the fifth was the game's big blow.

Nola has had some well-documented problems in Septembers past. He had a 6.19 ERA in six starts last September and a 6.51 ERA in five starts in September 2019.

He appeared to be well on his way to rewriting the script this September. He had allowed just five runs in 21⅔ in his first four starts this September and opened Wednesday's game with four scoreless innings before the Cubs sent nine men to the plate and scored four times in the fifth. In the inning, a potential double play went unturned and Nola hit a batter. With one out, he tried to ride a full-count fastball by Morel and the rookie buggy-whipped it over the left-field wall to break a 1-1 tie.

"I got him to swing and miss (at a fastball) on 3-1 so I was all-in to throw it again," Nola said. "I just missed location.

"It's frustrating. I felt good but that fifth inning just got away from me."

Morel, 23, is becoming a notable Phillies killer. In five games against the Phillies this season, he has three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. Morel belted a solo homer against Zack Wheeler to help the Cubs beat the Phillies, 2-1, on Tuesday night.

The Cubs, playing out the string at 69-86, have beaten the Phillies in all five meetings between the teams this season. They are the new Miami Marlins, wreaking havoc on the Phillies' playoff chances.

The Phillies and Cubs close out their season series on Thursday afternoon. Another Phillies loss would leave them tied with the Brewers for the final NL wild-card spot with a week to go. The Phils do hold a tiebreaker over the Brewers but the champagne would taste pretty flat if that was their entry into the postseason.

The Phillies have not had a winning September since 2017. They have suffered some ugly late September collapses as their playoff drought reached a decade last year.

Last season, the Phillies lost six of their final seven.

In 2020, they lost seven of their final eight.

In 2019, they lost nine of their final 12.

In 2018, they lost nine of their final 11.

The pattern is continuing this September. The Phils have eight games to stop it and save their season.

"We didn't get it done today," Kyle Schwarber said. "We have to learn from it and try to win tomorrow.

"Obviously, we're not happy with what's going on. We want to score runs. The biggest thing is we have to stay positive. Just because we're down to the last road trip and pushing for a wild-card spot, we can't let those thoughts creep into our head. We have to have the same thought process we've had all year. Fight, scratch and claw to win a baseball game. Don't look too far ahead. This is a hard game and if you don't enjoy these times, it makes it a lot harder. Just go out there and try to have fun like it's opening day or the middle of July."

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