Phillies

Something Aaron Nola has on his side entering biggest start of career

Phillies

Game 60 for the Phillies is a playoff game, an elimination game. Win and you can potentially make the playoffs. Lose and you're out for the ninth straight year.

Truthfully, it is ridiculous that the 2020 Phillies are still in the mix on the final day of the season. They've lost six of seven games this week, all of which could have been classified as must-wins. They can still sneak into the playoffs as the 8-seed if they win and the Giants and Brewers lose today.

There's no one they'd rather have on the mound than Aaron Nola, their homegrown ace, their bright light during dark years, their 27-year-old workhorse who has outgrown all expectations.

This is the 139th start of Nola's big-league career and it is without question his most important.

He has always excelled in interleague play. Hitters and teams that don't experience the action on Nola's two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup struggle against him. He's had dominant starts against stacked Yankees and Red Sox lineups. In his last 12 interleague starts, Nola is 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA. When he's locked in, his movement and command can equal the offensive skill set of the best hitters in the game — the Freddie Freemans, the Mike Trouts, the Juan Sotos.

Nola faces a Rays team this afternoon that has already clinched the top seed in the American League. Tampa Bay could rest key relievers or pull a few position players early.

Nola is 5-4 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 11 starts this season. He's struck out 12.0 batters per nine innings this season, a higher rate than Gerrit Cole or Yu Darvish.

 

Yet the Phillies are 5-6 in his starts. If you knew in July that the Phillies would not have a winning record in Nola's starts, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn they had another losing year.

Nola has not pitched well in his last two starts, allowing five runs each time (eight of the 10 were earned). The Phillies are 1-3 in his last four starts. They have not played solid defense behind him but he also hasn't been quite as sharp as he was last month.

September was Nola's worst month in 2019. He went 0-3 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts. He's 7-11 with a 4.21 ERA in 26 September starts compared to 51-28 with a 3.28 ERA in all other months.

This, of course, is a September unlike any other. Phillies manager Joe Girardi compared it to the first week of June in terms of pitchers' arm strength and velocity. 

"You can't compare this September to any other September," he said Saturday afternoon. "The other Septembers, he's logged probably 175 innings going into September. It's completely different. He was pitching every fifth day last year, he never got an extra day's rest, which I think is important down the stretch for a lot of these guys.

"You ask him just to be Aaron Nola, just be who you are, and it's really pretty good."

Time for Nola to be Nola and deliver at least seven strong.