PHILADELPHIA -- When Aaron Nola can't stop Philadelphia's skid, the Phillies are in trouble.
Stephen Strasburg threw seven impressive innings, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Juan Soto homered and the Washington Nationals beat the freefalling Phillies 5-1 on Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep.
"We haven't played good baseball due to a ton of variables," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.
Nola, a Cy Young Award contender worthy of MVP consideration, had a rough first inning as the Phillies lost their fifth in a row to drop 7 1/2 games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East with 17 to play. They're 11-23 since Aug. 5, when they had the NL's second-best record.
"I made mistakes and they didn't miss them," Nola said. "We still have a chance. We have some games left."
The Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 to play in 2007 and rallied to win the NL East to begin a stretch of five straight division titles. They were swept by Colorado in the division series that season but won the World Series in 2008 and the NL pennant in 2009.
"It can change real fast," Nola said. "We can go from three (games back) to seven and seven to three just as fast."
Philadelphia has seven games remaining against the Braves.
Nola allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. His ERA rose to 2.42. He's given up four runs twice in September after only doing it twice in his first 27 starts.
"Their lineup is exceptional," Kapler said. "They throw challenging at-bats at you and they can all take you deep."
Nola, Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Washington's Max Scherzer are the front-runners in the NL Cy Young race. Scherzer has won the past two and previously won the award in the American League with Detroit in 2013.
Strasburg (8-7) allowed one run and struck out nine in his best start since April. He improved to 12-2 against the Phillies.
Harper crushed his 33rd homer, a two-run shot into Philadelphia's bullpen in the first to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead. Anthony Rendon followed with a double and scored on Zimmerman's single.
Zimmerman connected in the fourth, sending a drive into the bushes in straightaway center. Odubel Herrera made a leaping attempt at the fence and nearly caught it.
Soto drove one into the second deck in right field in the sixth off Austin Davis to make it 5-1. The 19-year-old rookie has 19 homers. Harper hit 22 homers as a teenager for the Nationals in 2012.
"It's reminiscent of watching Tony Gwynn growing up," Strasburg said of Soto.
J.P. Crawford hit a solo shot in the fifth for Philadelphia's only run.
TOUCH `EM ALL
Nola became the first Phillies pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season since Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in 2013.
The Nationals closed within a half-game of the Phillies for second place behind the Braves.
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross makes his first start of the season Thursday in a makeup game against the Cubs.
Phillies: RHP Zach Eflin (9-7, 4.42 ERA) pitches Friday night against Miami in the opener of a three-game series. Eflin is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in two starts vs. the Marlins this season.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Seager 'absolutely' set for opener, Roberts says
Although he has yet to appear in an official spring training game, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager will be ready for Opening Day, manager Dave Roberts said
Harper returns as DH following HBP on ankle
Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper is batting third in Sunday's spring training game, playing two days after he suffered a right ankle bruise from being hit by a pitch.
Hinch suspended 1 spring game for ump issue
Astros manager AJ Hinch has been suspended one spring training game for calling umpire Angel Hernandez "unprofessional" and "arrogant."
Yankees CF Hicks (back) to miss opening series
Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks will miss the first series of the regular season because of a lower back injury he has been dealing with since March 1.
What you need to know about MLB's new rules
Changes to the trade deadline, roster size and minimum pitcher workloads over the next two seasons should shake up your scorecards.
Olney: How the new July 31 trade deadline changes everything
Frequent trader Jerry Dipoto won't be the only GM in a hurry to make deals, as earlier swaps and a busier deadline could be in the mix.