Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good


Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good

Phillies (53-86) at Nationals (85-54)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

In an attempt to capture their second straight series victory, the Phillies began to rally against the Mets on Wednesday after facing a 6-0 deficit.

The Phils cut that lead in half in the top of the sixth inning, but the game was called in the bottom frame after a 57-minute rain delay. 

After dropping two of three to the Mets, the Phillies will go from facing one of the worst teams in baseball to the class of their division in the Nationals. 

•With seven games remaining between the two clubs, the Nationals hold a 7-5 advantage over the Phils in the season series. The last time the Phillies came out on top of the season series with the Nats was in 2014 when they went 11-8. Since, the Phils have gone 17-33 against Washington.

•Aaron Nola has hit a bit of a rough patch in what has otherwise been a strong season for the right-hander. After a string of 10 consecutive starts where Nola allowed no more than two earned runs, he was tagged for five and seven runs, respectively, in two straight mid-August starts. He appeared to snap out of that funk in his start against the Braves on Aug. 28, when he allowed one run on five hits over seven innings. 

But Nola was roughed up yet again in his last start, allowing six runs on 10 hits in a loss to the Marlins. Nola will look to get back on track for good against a team he had success against earlier this season. In his only start against Washington, back on April 14, he held a daunting Nationals lineup to just one run over five innings.

•That daunting Nationals lineup has been without Bryce Harper, who is hitting to the fine tune of .326/.419/.614 in 2017, since Aug. 12, when the superstar outfielder went down with a knee injury. It's unclear when Harper will return, but a very strong pitching staff and a deep lineup have kept the Nats afloat in Harper's absence. They're 16-9 since and trail the reeling Dodgers (who have lost nine of 10) by seven games for the top spot in the National League.

•Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt have gotten most of the of buzz for NL MVP, but Anthony Rendon deserves to at least be in the conversation. Rendon is hitting .303/.403/.539 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs on one of the best teams in baseball. Oh yeah, and he's currently leading all of MLB in WAR (6.5), per FanGraphs.

•Three of the top five ERA leaders in all of MLB hail from the Nationals' pitching staff, in Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. The Phillies are currently scheduled to face just Scherzer from that uber-talented trio in this four-game series, but the Nationals have yet to announce their starter for Sunday's game.

Tanner Roark will take the mound for the Nats on Thursday. After boasting a 2.83 ERA across 33 starts last season, Roark has struggled in 2017. His ERA has risen to 4.48 and his WHIP is over 1.3. The good news for Roark? He's been better than his season averages across three strarts against the Phillies this season, pitching to a 3.06 ERA and 1.019 WHIP.

•On Wednesday, J.P. Crawford started at third base over Maikel Franco for the second straight game since being called up. Pete Mackanin plans on getting Crawford as much playing time as possible down the final stretch of the season and, while Mackanin said Crawford will get time in the middle infield as well, it will be interesting to see just how many more starts Franco gets in the final 23 games. Franco, who is slashing .223/.278/.387, has been substantially worse than Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis this season. 

•Bryce Harper had the best hair in baseball. Notice that last sentence says had and not has. Harper on Wednesday reveled his new look and it was a far cry from his awesome flow. 

Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Today is the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper's first regular-season home run as a Phillie, a 465-foot solo shot off of former Phils first-round pick Jesse Biddle.

The Phillies swept the Braves in that opening series and Harper went deep in the second and third games. He hit seven of his 35 home runs against the Braves, three more than he had against any other team in 2019.

Let's look back at Harper's top five home runs as a Phillie in Year 1.

1. Walk-off grand slam vs. Cubs (Aug. 15)

You knew this was going to be No. 1. It was probably the top moment of the Phillies' 2019 season.

The Phillies were down 5-3 with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth when Harper sent a 2-2 pitch from lefty Derek Holland into the second deck in right field.

Everything about the moment was great — from the height and majesty of Harper's walk-off grand slam to John Kruk's "Oh my god!" to Tom McCarthy's call.

This win made the Phillies 63-58 and was part of a season-long four-game winning streak. They won four in a row on five different instances but lost the fifth game each time.

Harper has six career walk-off home runs. This was his first since May of 2017.

2. Harper drops the mic in return to D.C. (April 2)

This one didn't affect the outcome of the game like the walk-off grand slam but it was definitely a memorable moment on a night when Harper was booed nonstop.

It was the Phillies' fourth game of the season and they had just swept the Braves. The Nats started Max Scherzer in one of many long, rainy games in D.C. between the Phils and Nats.

Late in the night, with the Phillies already up 6-2, Harper absolutely crushed a Jeremy Hellickson pitch to the second deck in right-center. There were a ton of Phillies fans in attendance and they made up most of the remaining crowd. 

Check out how that section in right field stirs after the crack of the bat.

3. Harper splashes into McCovey Cove for the win (Aug. 9)

Another late-game home run against a left-handed reliever. The Phillies were down 6-5 in the seventh inning in San Francisco when Harper hit a 3-run shot into McCovey Cove against Tony Watson.

It went 456 feet. The Phillies badly needed it because it was their only win in the final six of a seven-game West Coast trip.

This was when Harper was at his hottest. In 20 games from Aug. 5 through Aug. 31, he hit .304 with 10 homers and 24 RBI.

4. Blasting off onto Ashburn Alley (May 18)

This was Harper's longest home run of the year, a 466-footer on a Saturday afternoon to straightaway center field that cleared almost everything and landed on Ashburn Alley.

The Phillies swept the Rockies in this early-season series and emerged 27-19. Remember those days? The Phils' high watermark came 10 days later at 33-22.

5. Bryce beats the Dodgers early and late (July 16)

Probably Harper's best game of the season.

The Phillies jumped on Dodgers ace Walker Buehler for six runs in one of Buehler's worst starts. Harper punctuated the Phillies' second-inning rally with a 458-foot, three-run shot off Buehler on a fastball just over 98 mph. He did even more damage later.

This was one of the Phillies' wildest games of the year. They led 6-1 after three innings but the Dodgers came all the way back and went ahead 8-6 in the top of the ninth. 

With one out in the bottom of the ninth against Kenley Jansen, Andrew Knapp doubled, Cesar Hernandez singled, Scott Kingery drove in a run with an RBI single and Harper hit a walk-off two-run double.

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Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

At least the Phillies got one full season of J.T. Realmuto.

The Los Angeles Dodgers could end up getting nothing from Mookie Betts.

While there is hope of a Major League Baseball season in 2020, no one knows for sure if one will happen. One-hundred games, 120, 88, zero. No one knows. Our world is at the mercy of this beast called coronavirus and baseball is just a small part of our world.

But baseball is what we do here, so we have to consider these possibilities and one of them is that the popular and talented Realmuto has played his last game with the Phillies.

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed that players would continue to accrue service time during the game's health-related shutdown. This means that established players who are just one season shy of free agency will still arrive at that precious and lucrative destination next offseason, regardless of whether or not there is a 2020 season.

Now, all sides are hopeful that there will be baseball in 2020, and the guess here is that there will indeed be some type of a season. But if this pandemic does not subside and the sport is shuttered for the season, Betts, picked up by the Dodgers in a February trade with the Red Sox, will enter the free-agent market next winter without ever wearing Dodger blue in an official game.

If the sport is shuttered for the year, Realmuto will become a free agent after just one All-Star season with the Phillies. Pitchers Trevor Bauer, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman will all become free agents without throwing a competitive pitch in 2020.

The Phillies have made it clear that they would like to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market. They have long called him the best catcher in baseball and with that praise seems to come an acknowledgment that they’d be willing to give him a multi-year deal with an average annual value of more than $23 million, which would exceed Joe Mauer’s record AAV for a catcher. The Phils had been engaged in talks with Realmuto’s representation about a potential contract extension before spring training camps were shut down earlier this month.

When camps were shut down, health and safety of players, staff and fans became the top priority, and contract negotiations, as a practical matter, were back-burnered. Now, they are officially off the stove as MLB has issued an indefinite freeze on transactions and negotiations.

If and when MLB comes up with a clearer idea of when the season will start, the Phillies will surely engage Realmuto’s side in contract talks again.

But now, a new variable has entered the picture.

The Phillies' best bit of leverage in talks with Realmuto was the season itself, the 162-game grind of the schedule and the risk of injury that all players assume. Suffering an injury in a walk year could seriously impact any player’s earning power in free agency so, in that regard, opening day and the length of the season was seen as an ally for the Phillies.

But what happens if the season is shortened dramatically? A shorter season would not eliminate the risk of injury because injury has no calendar and it does not discriminate Game 25 from Game 152. But, could fewer games be enough of a mitigating factor in Realmuto’s mind that he takes the risk of playing whatever the 2020 season looks like without the security of an extension so he can take his chances on greater free-agent riches in just a few months?

It’s something to think about.

But so is this:

Regardless of whether the 2020 season is simply altered, shortened or canceled altogether, revenues throughout the game are going to shrink, maybe drastically. The shutdown affects everything from ticket sales, to parking, to merchandise and concessional sales. It affects the huge revenues that teams generate through national and local media deals (TV and radio) and sponsorships. Fewer dollars coming in will affect the overall pool and that could impact next winter’s free-agent market in the amount of money that teams have to spend.

So, Realmuto has a few things to think about. Some of it might excite him. Some of it might not.

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