Boston Red Sox

Aaron Nola has a big fan in Boston

Aaron Nola has a big fan in Boston

Over the last two seasons, the Boston Red Sox have faced Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber and Blake Snell, just to name a handful of the top pitchers in the American League. That quartet of arms has combined for four Cy Young Awards and 10 other top 5 finishes in their careers.

So the Sox have seen some pitching over the last two seasons.

That’s what makes this comment about Aaron Nola from Boston manager Alex Cora so remarkable:

“We’ve seen him the last two years,” Cora said. “With all due respect to all the pitchers that we have faced, he’s been the best one. I love the way he competes, love his stuff, he doesn’t panic. He’s pitched twice over there at home and (once) here, but with the offense that we have, he still dominates us.”

Cora made this comment during his postgame session with reporters after Saturday night’s game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox rallied against Hector Neris in the top of the ninth and won, 2-1. They did little against Nola earlier in the game. The right-hander scattered four hits and a run over seven innings and struck out nine.

On August 20 in Boston, Nola beat the Red Sox with seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball.

Last season, he pitched eight innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 13-inning loss at Fenway Park.

So in three career starts against Boston, Nola has allowed just 12 hits and four runs over 22 innings. He has racked up 22 strikeouts and walked just five.

Nola, 26, signed a four-year, $45 million contract with the Phillies in February. Had he not signed and gone to arbitration this winter, his agent surely would have used Cora's appraisal in negotiations.

“They really have a good one,” Cora said. “He’s a special one. It would have been cool to face him in October, but I guess we’ll face him next year.”

If the Red Sox see Nola next season, it will have to be in the World Series. The two teams, frequent interleague opponents, are not scheduled to play each other during the regular season next year. Only a rematch of the 1915 World Series would pit them against each other in October. That actually sounds fun.

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Aaron Nola sharp, but Phillies whiff yet again with their No. 1 starter on the hill

Aaron Nola sharp, but Phillies whiff yet again with their No. 1 starter on the hill


Aaron Nola delivered seven innings of one-run ball, but the Phillies hitters did not deliver enough offense in a damaging 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 3 ½ games back in the NL wild-card chase with just 15 games to play.

Incredibly, the Phillies are winless in Nola’s last five starts. That can’t happen in a playoff chase.

Nola and Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez hooked up in a tight pitchers’ duel. The teams traded runs in the seventh inning and the Red Sox went ahead against Hector Neris in the ninth. Neris allowed two singles, a one-out walk and a tie-breaking sacrifice fly to Andrew Benintendi.

The Phillies had just five hits in the game and went 0 for 5 with a runner in scoring position. They had a runner on second with no outs in the eighth but the top half of the batting order could not get him home.

Nola’s night

The right-hander rebounded from two straight shaky outings and delivered a gem. He rolled through the first six innings and allowed just three base runners, and none got past second base.

In the seventh, Nola wore down a little. He allowed a walk and a base hit to open the frame before Christian Vazquez smacked a curve ball to the gap to break a scoreless tie.

Nola then walked Jackie Bradley Jr., to load the bases.

With his pitch count rising toward 100, Nola was able to get out of the jam. He got a force at the plate for the second out then struck out the opposing pitcher Rodriguez for the third out.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora let Rodriguez hit with the bases loaded because he was at just 80 pitches and still had gas in the tank. Suffice it to say, Nola was happy with Cora’s decision. The Red Sox had Benintendi, Brock Holt and Mookie Betts on the bench as potential pinch-hit options. Cora put Benintendi to good use in the ninth.

Rodriguez coughs up lead

Rodriguez almost made his skipper look good for sticking with him. After allowing a leadoff single to Bryce Harper to open the bottom of the seventh, the lefty struck out Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, who together swung at five pitches outside the strike zone. Kingery went down swinging at three changeups out of the zone.

Rodriguez was one strike away from getting out of the inning when he hit Adam Haseley with a pitch to load the bases. That brought up Maikel Franco. He worked a full count then took ball four to force home the tying run.

Rodriguez then exited and lefty Josh Taylor struck out pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin as the score remained tied at 1-1.

Trouble with the change

Rodriguez threw 105 pitches and got 19 swings-and-misses, 16 of them on his changeup. Phillies hitters did a lot of chasing outside of the strike zone and stuck out 12 times in 6 2/3 innings against Rodriguez.

Over the last three seasons, the Red Sox are 13-0 when Rodriguez starts an interleague game.

And another one

Catcher J.T. Realmuto showed off his quick release once again in gunning down his 37th attempted base stealer of the season. That’s the most in the majors. No Phillies catcher has thrown out more in a season since Darren Daulton gunned down 40 in 1993.

Franco starts

Back in early August, Franco was sent to the minors. One of the reasons given for the demotion was his lack of success hitting left-handed pitching. Entering this game, Franco was 4 for 6 with a double and a homer against left-handed pitching since his return from the minors. That earned him the start against Rodriguez.

Up next

The Phillies will send lefty Jason Vargas (6-7, 4.31) to the mound Sunday afternoon. He will face right-hander Rick Porcello (12-12, 5.83).

The Phillies flip-flopped Vargas and Vince Velasquez in the rotation. Velasquez will pitch Tuesday night in Atlanta. Manager Gabe Kapler said he made the move because Atlanta was so familiar with Vargas. Vargas lasted just three innings Tuesday night against Atlanta. The Phillies ended up winning that game, 6-5.

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2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

The 2018 Red Sox went wire to wire and won the World Series. The 2019 Red Sox have a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs because of how brutal their starting rotation has been. 

A rotation that the Phillies and any other team in need of several starting pitchers should take note of.

The Red Sox allocated more than $90 million to their starting pitchers this season, the most in baseball in terms of total dollars and percentage of payroll dedicated to starting pitchers (40 percent).

They extended Chris Sale in March (five years, $145 million), just before his worst major-league season which is already over because of an elbow injury. Sale's deal kicks in next year, and the Red Sox won't admit it but they're almost certainly regretting it already.

They paid Nate Eovaldi $68 million this past offseason and have gotten nothing in return. Eovaldi, who received that contract only because of 22 dominant innings in the 2018 postseason, has been a disaster. Injuries have limited him to just 36⅓ innings and he has struggled as a starter and reliever to the tune of a 6.69 ERA.

Rick Porcello, in the last of a four-year, $82.5 million contract, won the Cy Young award in the first year of that deal and has been bad ever since. His ERA is 5.49 this season and is three percent below league-average the last three years. 

Boston doesn't win the 2018 World Series without David Price. But what if Price's contract, which pays him $96 million the next three seasons, along with the rest of these deals prevent the Red Sox from retaining Mookie Betts? Betts will want more money than Bryce Harper and deserves it. That situation will be interesting to monitor.

Going out and buying a rotation does not always work, and it almost never works long-term. Think about what happened with Roy Halladay. Two great years the Phillies probably would not trade for anything, then two rough years. Cliff Lee? Three very good years upon his return, then he was MIA the final two seasons.

Good pitchers are certainly worth a lot of money but it has to be the right pitcher and the right contract length. Gerrit Cole, a free agent this winter, could command $200 million and his market will be robust. Teams will be tantalized by his continued improvement and insane strikeout rate, which is the perfect way to combat the juiced ball.

But after Cole, no other pitcher on the free-agent market this winter can really be considered a "safe" bet. Confident in Madison Bumgarner the next four years? Cole Hamels the next two? Will a team have any idea which version of Zack Wheeler, Wade Miley, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi or Alex Wood they are getting?

Not to say the Phillies should avoid the starting pitching market. They cannot. It's not even an option. They need 60 percent of a starting rotation and probably more than that since few teams ever go through 162 games with the same five starters. 

But going out and spending $200 million on Cole, $40 million on Hamels and another $40 million or so on one of the mid-rotation pieces will not guarantee that the Phillies turn into a 95-win team in 2020. 

The Red Sox best starting pitcher this season has been Eduardo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, cost-controlled lefty they acquired from the Orioles at the 2014 trade deadline for a half-season of Andrew Miller. That's the kind of trade no team in the Orioles' position ever wants to make anymore, because the Rodriguezes of the world, if they pan out, become the most valuable pieces in baseball. Young, cheap arms without wear and tear who can approach 200 quality innings.

The Phillies need to find their Rodriguez — none of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin or Vince Velasquez turned into one — as much as they need to sign a recognizable name. Splurging on Cole seems unlikely only because the Phillies just committed more than $400 million last offseason and if they sign Cole, it would limit the number of times they can add another superstar during this window.

The Padres, who were just in town, had a couple intriguing arms the Phillies should (and probably will) call about this winter: lefty Joey Lucchesi and righty Dinelson Lamet. San Diego has a lot of young pitching but is in need of offense at positions other than first base, shortstop and third base. 

Pittsburgh's Joe Musgrove is another mid-rotation piece under cost control who could better help a team like the Phillies than the Pirates.

As thin as the Phillies are on pitchers, they must be creative this offseason, not just free-spending.

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