September has not been a kind month to the Phillies in recent years.
From 2012 through last season, the Phils were 30 games under .500 in the month of September. Their .431 winning percentage in the month over that span ranked 27th out of 30 big-league teams.
The Phillies’ problems in the ninth month were particularly bad the last two seasons as they went a combined 20-36 and fell out of postseason contention both times.
This is a new year with a new manager, some new players and new mindset.
The Phils began September with a 6-0 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
That’s seven wins in the last eight games.
With 29 games left in the 60-game sprint, the Phillies are finally over .500 at 16-15.
“I think there’s a significance to that,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The first thing I said after the game was, ‘We’re over .500.’ It took a lot of hard work to get there because we dug ourselves a hole.”
Aaron Nola struggled mightily last September, going 0-5 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts.
He couldn’t have been much better in his first September start of 2020. He pitched eight innings of two-run ball, walked three and struck out nine.
From the start of the game, Nola had a great curveball. He got a dozen swings and misses on the pitch and 20 overall.
Even opposing pitcher Patrick Corbin noticed.
“When he’s on, he’s one of the top pitchers in the game,” Corbin said.
And Nola — 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA — was most definitely on. He held the lethal tandem of Trea Turner and Juan Soto hitless.
“He was great,” Girardi said. “You could see his stuff was really good right from the beginning. I had a good feeling after watching his breaking ball in the first inning.
“He made pitches all night. And our bullpen needed [the rest] so that was big.”
The offense was led by Alec Bohm (home run, RBI double) and Andrew McCutchen (three-run homer).
McCutchen loves what he’s seeing of this team.
“I personally don’t feel like we’re even hot yet,” he said. “I’m feeling like this is going to be a big month for us. We’ve got a great group of guys. We know what we're capable of. Things are starting to click. I definitely feel we can be even better.”
The Phils have not made the playoffs since 2011. If the season ended today, they would be in the postseason.
Girardi said there was no reason to remind the Phillies of their September struggles of recent years.
Just let 'em play.
“I don’t bring something up unless it needs to be brought up,” he said. “I never want to put something in someone’s head. This is a totally different year. This club is healthy. Last year’s club wasn’t totally healthy and we’ve added some guys. I feel good about these guys.”
So does Nola.
“Being September now, every game matters,” Nola said. “We’re trying to get a W every night.
“There’s something to be said about how we’re playing right now, especially how we’re throwing the ball and hitting the ball. I can’t say enough about our offense. We’re scoring a lot of runs.”
Indeed, the Phils are averaging 5.61 runs per game, third highest in the majors.
The offense has a tough assignment Wednesday night against three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Zack Wheeler pitches for the Phillies as they look to improve to 5-0 against the Nationals this season.