Following a day off on Monday, the Phillies (77-76) play the first of six remaining games with the first-place Nationals. That's no easy task for a team clinging to diminishing hopes of a sixth straight postseason berth.
"The noose is getting tight, but we're still there," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We haven't stopped breathing yet."
Not yet, but a second consecutive defeat certainly didn't help. Sunday's loss could be chalked up to a sputtering offense that managed just two hits. Lee (6-8) did his part with a stellar eight-inning, 11-strikeout performance, but the bats were silenced by Atlanta pitching for the second straight day.
Lee, who recorded double-digit strikeouts for the 23rd time in his career, continued his hot streak with his eighth consecutive quality start. The left-hander surrendered only two runs (one earned) to improve his ERA to 3.18, the lowest it's been since early June.
Over his last six starts, Lee has posted a 1.04 ERA. He did not issue a walk on Sunday, meaning he has pitched at least six innings and not issued more than one walk in 15 straight starts, setting a modern-era single-season Major League record.
Atlanta's Tim Hudson, however, allowed only one unearned run on two hits en route to his team-leading 16th win. The veteran right-hander showed good command and changed speeds well, needing just 85 pitches to get through 7 1/3 innings. Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel shut down Philadelphia over the final 1 2/3 frames.
Hudson got just enough run support. David Ross smacked a 2-1 fastball from Lee into the bushes over the wall in dead center field for the game's first run in the second inning. The Braves scored the deciding run an inning later.
After Reed Johnson and Martin Prado reached on singles to lead off the third, Jason Heyward hit a swinging bunt that Lee bobbled to load the bases with no outs. However, Lee limited the damage by only allowing one run on a Dan Uggla sacrifice fly.
"I feel like I could've gotten away with all those hits had I fielded the ball that Heyward hit," Lee said. "I wasn't able to do that and got the bases loaded with no one out. That's not really where you want to be. But I really felt fortunate to get out of that with just one run in that inning. But that was really the run that allowed them to win."
"[Lee] did a heck of a job with bases loaded and nobody out," Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said. "That is the difference sometimes between a young pitcher and a veteran. They don't panic. He went out there and gave his team a great chance to win."
The Phillies, who scored their lone run in the sixth when Jimmy Rollins scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly, didn't take advantage of Lee's great outing and have now scored three runs or fewer in 18 of Lee's 28 starts this season. They have plated only 73 runs during the former American League Cy Young Award winner's time on the mound.
"You can go back and 'What if, this' and 'What if, that' with a lot of things," Lee said of his strange season. "Obviously, the way my season's gone individually you can do that there, and there's a lot of strange things that have happened. But it kind of is what it is. Like I've said a million times, all I can control is what I can control, and give the team a chance to win every time. For the most part I felt like I did that today. We just weren't able to get it done."