Starting pitching was the reason the Phillies got out to a fast start this season and why they entered September just two games out of the NL East lead.
But the starting pitching has been tailing off. Zach Eflin, who was 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA in his first 11 starts, struggled again Saturday, allowing four runs (three earned) to the Cubs over five innings.
Eflin has a 5.51 ERA over his last nine starts. The Phillies have gone 2-7.
On Saturday, the Cubs jumped him in the first inning, going double-single-groundout-double to plate two runs.
The Phillies' offense couldn't generate much against soft-tossing righty Kyle Hendricks in an eventual 7-1 loss.
"I really struggled with my command, particularly my fastball," Eflin said. "Kind of been the common denominator the last three outings, fastball command. When I've tried to get it in on guys I've been coming over the middle of the plate.
The Phils are 72-63. The loss followed their only two-game winning streak in the last two weeks.
Help from the Pirates?
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the Braves scored four on the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth for a comeback 5-3 win.
The Phillies are three games back, but Atlanta's schedule only gets tougher from here.
Need more than just Nola
The last eight cycles through the rotation, the Phillies are a combined 5-11 when Eflin and Nick Pivetta have started. They're 14-19 when anyone other than Aaron Nola has started.
This is an issue. Not necessarily an unexpected issue given that Eflin, Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have never pitched more than 165 innings in a season.
Eflin is at 131 innings after Saturday's start. His career high at any level was 131⅔ at Double A in 2015.
"Not his crispest performance but he battled," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Getting him through five innings under these circumstances in September was the right amount.
"Chasing down the National League East title is not going to be based on whether our starting pitchers are sharp down the stretch, I think it's going to be our entire club playing together and everyone taking those small steps forward that we talked about in spring training.
"I don't think you can isolate it to one bucket of our team."
Gabe Kapler shuffled the top of his order, moving Carlos Santana into the leadoff spot and dropping Cesar Hernandez to ninth.
For Cesar, it was time.
He entered Saturday hitting .254, exactly 40 points lower than in 2017 or 2016. Hernandez, who went 0 for 3, is 45 for 200 since July 1. That's a .225 batting average.
At .359, the OBP is still high, but he just hasn't generated much offense or energy atop the lineup in months. Time for Roman Quinn to get a nice look there.
Santana went 2 for 4 out of the leadoff spot.
The Phillies' only run scored was on a Nick Williams RBI single up the middle in the fourth inning.
The Phillies and Cubs wrap it up tomorrow afternoon at 1:35.
It's another great pitching matchup involving Aaron Nola, with Nola taking on Jon Lester.
Nola is 15-3 with a 2.10 ERA. Fellow Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom is at 1.68 and Max Scherzer is at 2.22.
Lester is 14-5 with a 3.67 ERA.