PHILADELPHIA -- With every passing day -- and each missed opportunity -- time is becoming the Phillies’ enemy.
The Phillies had another chance to inch themselves closer to a postseason spot Tuesday, but a rocky outing by Kyle Gibson and a lack of timely hitting doomed them to a 6-3 loss in their series opener against the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park.
“It's frustrating,” said manager Joe Girardi, who wore those frustrations on his face throughout much of the night. “We're working every day, we're trying to figure this out, trying to get guys right. It's frustrating right now, but we still have an opportunity here. We just need to play better.”
The Phillies’ (72-72) deficit in the National League East remains at 4 1/2 games, though they had a chance to trim that number as the Braves (76-67) lost to the Rockies in Atlanta. The Reds (75-70) -- one of three teams the Phillies are trying to chase down in the NL Wild Card race -- also lost, creating yet another missed opportunity for the Phils.
“Every time you lose, no matter if the team ahead of you wins or loses, it's a frustrating night,” Gibson said. “Thankfully when they do lose when you lose, you don't lose any ground, but wasted an opportunity. We’re trying to not focus too much on other teams; we're trying to just make sure that we're coming in and taking care of business.”
For four innings, it looked like Gibson was prepared to take care of the Cubs all by himself. He retired the first 12 batters he faced, looking sharp through four perfect innings. Odúbel Herrera even gave him a quick lead with a leadoff home run against Cubs starter Adrian Sampson.
Then came the fifth.
Willson Contreras led off with a single, giving the Cubs their first baserunner of the game. Patrick Wisdom and Alfonso Rivas followed with back-to-back home runs, launching a pair of fastballs for a 3-1 lead. Rafael Ortega capped the four-run frame with an RBI double.
“It was a frustrating inning, obviously,” Gibson said. “I don't know that I've executed pitches that well -- since I've been here -- in the first four innings. … I thought I had really good command with my four-seam tonight.
“The frustrating part in those situations is if you execute pitches that you feel like is the right pitch, you throw it with conviction and they hit it, you probably picked the wrong pitch. It seemed like either I was a step behind or maybe I just didn't execute the right pitch.”
To Girardi, Gibson’s problem was easy to diagnose.
“He just made some mistakes with his fastball,” Girardi said. “The two-run homer was a fastball, the solo homer was a fastball. He was so good for the first four innings locating, and it just looked like he made some mistakes.”
The Phillies put runners on base all night, but four double plays limited their ability to turn those chances into runs. Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius each drove in a run in the sixth, but that was as close as it got, as the Cubs countered with two runs in the seventh.
At 72-72, the Phillies must win 10 of their final 18 games to finish above .500 for the first time since 2011, though that’s not the goal Girardi is focused on.
“Our focus is the playoffs,” Girardi said. “It’s one game. We have to come out and play a crisp game, do things right tomorrow and find a way to win.”
Following these next two games against the Cubs, the Phillies visit the Mets for three games, then host the Orioles and Pirates for a seven-game home stand. After that, it’s to Atlanta for a three-game set that the Phils hope will still be meaningful.
“The calendar obviously runs out and we're getting to a point where it does,” Gibson said. “I don't want to make it seem like we aren't playing with a sense of urgency, because I think we are. I also don't want to necessarily make too much of the situation.
“Anytime that you're behind in a race, you only have so many games left to make it up. We're a team that can get on a roll, and if we can get on a roll then head into Atlanta, those three games are some of the most important games we’re going to play. I think we're just trying to keep ourselves in a position where we can go on a streak and have a chance at the end.”