In a rare departure from his Cy Young form, Phillies righthander Aaron Nola had an uncharacteristic off day and his team followed suit.

Nola allowed three home runs (all solo shots) as the Phillies lost, 8-1, to the Chicago Cubs before 36,517 on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The loss dropped the Phillies  four games behind the Braves in the National League East race after Atlanta beat the Pirates.

Nola entered the game with 31 consecutive starts without allowing more than one home run.

Even on an off day, Nola showed periods of brilliance. In 5 2/3 innings he struck out 11, the sixth time he has hit double figures this season and the eighth in his career. He felt he pitched better than the results showed.

"All my pitches felt pretty good today, especially my fastball and curveball," Nola said. "I had good life on my fastball. I missed a couple of pitches …"

With the way the offense has struggled, there is little margin for error.

Meanwhile, Nola's counterpart, Jon Lester, continued his mastery over the Phillies, even though it wasn't always smooth.

Lester threw six shutout innings, and now is 8-0 with a 1.49 ERA in 10 career regular-season starts against the Phillies.

The lefthander labored at times, allowing eight hits in six innings, but he didn't issue a walk and struck out seven.

The Phillies failed to score in the first inning despite getting three hits and making Lester throw 24 pitches.

Leadoff man Roman Quinn was thrown out attempting to stretch a double into a triple by leftfielder Kyle Schwarber, who initially bobbled the ball but threw a laser to third base.

"I was about to slow up, but I saw him bobble the ball in the outfield and I thought I had a chance for third," Quinn said.

Instead Schwarber earned his 11th outfield assist this season.

After Nola struck out six straight batters, Daniel Murphy got the Cubs' first hit, a solo home run to right field with two outs in the third inning on a 94-mph, four-seam fastball.

Murphy, who seems to hit all pitchers, is batting .344 (10 for 29) with two home runs and six RBIs against Nola.

"I thought especially the way Nola came out firing, it kind of looked like we would see something historic today the way he was going after their hitters," manager Gabe Kapler said. "And obviously it turned out into an 11-punch-out game against the National League's best offense."

The Cubs (81-55) have the best record in the National League for a reason.

"In a couple of ways it was a really special performance by Nola and others you have to tip your cap to their hitters, they were excellent," Kapler said.

Chicago's second hit produced the same result, a solo homer to right-center field by Anthony Rizzo on an 85-mph change-up in the fourth inning.

"That change-up over the middle kind of stayed flat on Rizzo," Nola said

In the bottom of the fourth, the Phillies loaded the bases, but Nola ended the inning by grounding out to third.

MVP candidate Javier Baez tattooed a four-seam fastball to deep left field for the Cubs' third solo home run in the sixth. For Baez it was his 30th home run and 100th RBI.

Nola allowed fewer non-home run hits (two) than home runs. He tied his season high of allowing four earned runs and departed after Schwarber's RBI triple in the sixth.

It was only the second time in his career that Nola had allowed three home runs in a game. The first came on Sept. 4, 2015, in an 8-7 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Jorge Alfaro finally got the Phillies on the board with a two-out RBI double in the ninth.

Now with 26 games left, Nola and the Phillies look to regroup as they head for three games each at Miami and then in New York against the Mets.