ATLANTA — Life went on here Sunday, one day after the National League East was won. The sun came up. Aaron Nola pitched. Odubel Herrera made a mistake on the bases.
Oh, and the Phillies lost.
Make it 15 losses in 21 games this month after a 2-1 setback against the Atlanta Braves, who completed a four-game sweep at SunTrust Park despite marking their first full day as division champs by starting only two of their everyday players — and pulling both Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman after one at-bat.
"It's frustrating at times, but I think it's a learning process for us," said Nola, who gave up a go-ahead solo homer to Lane Adams in the fifth inning. "I think it's a big step this year from last year. I feel like each year we're learning more about each other."
Nevertheless, the Phillies were mathematically eliminated from a wild-card race that they didn't stand much chance to win anyway. They are 78-77 — the closest they have been to .500 since they were 6-5 on April 11 — and must go 4-3 over the final week of the season to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2011, a goal that once seemed modest for a team that was 15 games over .500 as recently as Aug. 7.
"It's very important," manager Gabe Kapler said.
But it's hardly a cinch. Not with the way the Phillies have played, or with a four-game series beginning Monday night at Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies are locked in a tight race with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown.
"Everybody understands that there's a lot of value in having a winning season," Kapler said. "I don't think that that's necessarily something that you have to flag or highlight."
Sunday's start was significant for Nola in that he surpassed 200 innings, a mark that has become exceedingly rare. In 2012, 18 NL pitchers reached 200 innings. That club shrank to 16 pitchers in 2013, 14 in 2014, 12 in 2015, six in 2016 and seven last season. Nola is only the fourth NL pitcher to get there this season after Washington's Max Scherzer, the Mets' Jacob deGrom and Arizona's Zack Greinke.
Nola, now 16-6 with a 2.45 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 205 innings, is lined up to pitch once more — Friday night against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Kapler said the ace will make that start mostly because he wants to. Nola has never gone through a season without missing a start, a streak he has no intention of continuing.
"I want to make all my starts. It means I stayed healthy all year," Nola said. "It was one of one of my goals to make every start and stay healthy all year."
Said Kapler: "One of the main things that I'm working on is to make sure that Aaron's wishes are honored. If he has six more innings this year, it's not going to make a material difference, in my opinion, whether he can add on to that next year or whether we have to scale him back."
The Braves took the lead against Nola in the second inning on a ground-rule double by Adam Duvall and an RBI double by Adams. They got only two more hits against him over the next four innings, but Adams' homer to left field on a change-up (after trying to bunt his way on base on the first pitch) snapped a 1-1 tie. Nola has allowed nine homers in his last five starts after giving up eight through his first 27.
Scott Kingery accounted for the Phillies' offense with a solo homer in the third inning against Braves starter Anibal Sanchez. It was Kingery's first homer — and only his third extra-base hit — since Aug. 24, and it represented one of the Phillies' few highlights from an utterly lost weekend.
"The Braves played better than us this weekend," Nola said. "Being able to finish the year off strong is important to us."