The Phillies’ annual September swoon continued to gain steam Tuesday night with another loss against a team with a losing record.
And if the Phillies aren’t careful, they could have a losing record as soon as Wednesday night.
The Phils dropped to 72-72 in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park and in doing so squandered a chance to pick up a game in the NL East race as first-place Atlanta lost to Colorado.
The Phils remain 4 ½ games behind the Braves but they have just 18 games left. The Braves have 19 remaining.
Even if the Braves play poorly the rest of the way, it will be difficult for the Phillies to catch them. For instance, the Braves could go just 9-10 the rest of the way and the Phils would have to go 13-5 just to tie them.
The Phils remain in the wild-card race, but they are three games back and trail three teams.
Tuesday night's loss dropped the Phillies to 4-8 this month and they have lost six of their last seven games, including four against the Rockies and Cubs, two teams that were a combined 26 games under .500 entering play Tuesday.
“It’s frustrating,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’re working every day trying to figure it out and get guys right. It’s frustrating right now, but we still have an opportunity. We just need to play better.”
Over the last four Septembers (2018-2021), the Phils are an abysmal 37-61.
Tuesday night’s game started promisingly with an Odubel Herrera home run and Kyle Gibson retiring the Cubs’ first 12 hitters, seven on strikeouts.
Gibson imploded in the fifth inning and the offense didn't do enough after Herrera's first-inning homer.
Gibson allowed a leadoff single to Willson Contreras in the fifth then a two-run homer to Patrick Wisdom. Alfonso Rivas followed with a line drive into the right-field seats and suddenly the Phillies were down 3-1. Four batters later, the Cubs made it 4-1 on an RBI double by Rafael Ortega.
“He just made mistakes with his fastball,” Girardi said.
“It was a frustrating inning because I don’t know that I’ve executed pitches any better since I’ve been here than in those first four innings,” Gibson said. “I just didn’t execute pitches in that inning.”
The Phils came back with two in the bottom of the sixth to cut the Cubs’ lead to 4-3. Jean Segura led off with a double, chasing starter Adrian Sampson, and Bryce Harper followed with an RBI double. Harper then came around to score on a one-out single by Didi Gregorius. The rally stalled when pinch-hitter Freddy Galvis grounded into a double play, the Phils’ fourth of the night.
The Cubs pulled away with a pair of two-out runs against reliever Sam Coonrod in the seventh. Coonrod allowed three doubles in the inning. Frank Schwindle’s two-bagger put the Cubs up, 5-3, and it came on a 0-2 slider that hung over the plate. The Phillies allowed a pair of 0-2 homers in losing to Colorado on Sunday.
Gibson joined the Phillies from Texas in a trade deadline deal. His first five starts were all quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) and the Phillies went 4-1 in those games. He has struggled in his last three, allowing 15 earned runs in 15 innings and the Phils have lost all three.
There’s not much time – for Gibson or the Phillies – to turn it around.
“Guys understand the magnitude of every game,” Gibson said. “These are big games in situations we know we can win so it creates frustration at the end of the night when we don’t. Any time you’re behind in a race, there are only so many games to make it up so we have to take care of business.”
Ranger Suarez pitches for the Phillies on Wednesday night.
“We have to play a crisp game, do things right and find a way to win,” Girardi said. “Our focus is on the playoffs. This is just one game.”
The Phils have not made the playoffs since 2011 and they also have not had a winning season since then. They will need to go at least 10-8 in their final 18 games simply to have a winning season.