First it was the Phillies’ falling out of the National League East race. And now it’s Aaron Nola falling out of the NL Cy Young race.
Neither is official. But it feels that way in both cases.
Nola was tagged for four runs over five innings in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night (see first take). The Nats swept the series from the free-falling Phillies.
Nola is 16-5 with a 2.42 ERA, 201 strikeouts and a 0.97 WHIP in 30 starts.
Jacob deGrom of the Mets is 8-9 with 239 strikeouts and a majors-best 1.71 ERA.
Max Scherzer of the Nationals is 17-6 with 271 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA.
Nola has suffered losses in two of his last three starts. He’s probably the third horse in this race, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a great season, one that is in the conversation with Roy Halladay in 2010 and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in 2011 for best by a Phillie in recent memory.
Long balls raise questions
Nola allowed a two-run homer to Bryce Harper in the first inning and that was all the offense the Nats needed as Stephen Strasburg shut down the Phils on five hits and a run over seven innings. He is 12-2 lifetime against the Phillies.
Nola gave up two homers in the game. He has allowed seven in his last three starts after allowing just eight in his first 27.
If he is fatigued, it’s probably understandable as he is at 193 2/3 innings, far and away a career high. At 25 and in just his third full big-league season, he has carried an ace’s load.
“I feel fine right now, honestly,” Nola said.
Manager Gabe Kapler dismissed fatigue as an issue and pointed to the quality of Nola’s stuff. His fastball reached 94 mph and he got 11 swinging strikes.
Nola said location of pitches has been the problem lately. Harper hit a 1-1 changeup that was up and over the plate.
“A changeup up in the zone is pretty deadly for a pitcher,” Nola said. “The last few games I’ve made some mistakes over the plate and they haven’t missed them.”
Shut down coming?
Nola will be the foundation of the Phillies’ rotation for years to come. With the Phillies falling fast out of the race, it might behoove the club to save some of his bullets and hold him out of his last start, which is scheduled for Sept. 28 at home. Nola, scheduled for three more starts, doesn’t want to hear about that now.
“I don't want to look at us not being in the race,” Nola said. “I want to make every start.”
The Phillies finished the season 8-11 against the Nats. They are 6-10 against the Mets and 9-7 against the Marlins, who come to town on Friday night. Performance in the division killed the Phils and must improve next season.
This was Harper’s 50th game in Citizens Bank Park and maybe his last as a member of the Nationals. He has 14 homers and 32 RBIs in those 50 games. Harper, who turns 26 in October, will be a free agent this winter. He could command a contract of more than $300 million. The Phillies have money and a need for offense and star power. You can bet he will be on their wish list along with Manny Machado.