Phillies face decision on how to put a bow on Aaron Nola’s great season

Phillies face decision on how to put a bow on Aaron Nola’s great season

ATLANTA – Aaron Nola crossed one of the most respected thresholds for a starting pitcher on Sunday afternoon.

He pitched six innings in the Phillies’ latest loss – a 2-1 setback to the Atlanta Braves – putting him at 205 1/3 innings for the season. 

The Phillies tailored their September rotation so Nola could face the Braves in his final two starts. The thinking was that he could be a difference-maker with the NL East title on the line. But by the time Nola took the mound Sunday afternoon, the Braves had already owned the division title for 20 hours. Sunday’s win completed a four-game sweep of the withered Phillies, who are 15-29 since leading the division on Aug. 5.

The question regarding Nola now is: Will the 25-year-old right-hander make his final start, scheduled for Friday night at home against Atlanta?

There are two schools of thought:

1. He is healthy. Let him finish his stellar season with five or six innings of work, tip his hat to the fans and head off into an offseason of rest and conditioning.

2. Shut him down, let the recovery from a long season begin now, and take a look at one of the kids.

After Sunday’s game, manager Gabe Kapler was at first pretty firm in saying Nola would make his final start. Later, he softened and said he wasn’t ready to make any definitive statements. In addition to Kapler, Nola and the front office will surely have a say in the decision. 

“One of the main things I'm working on is to make sure that Aaron's wishes are honored,” Kapler said. “If he has six more innings this year, it's not going to make a material difference, in my opinion, whether he can add on to that next year or whether we have to scale him back. I definitely want this to be something that we discuss with Aaron. He will be very involved in any decision that we make.”

Nola cast his vote after Sunday’s game.

“Two-hundred innings was one of my goals this year,” he said. “Another one of my goals was to make every start and stay healthy all year.

“Yeah, I want to make all my starts.”

Nola gave up just four hits Sunday. His recent troubles with the long ball -- nine in his last five starts -- continued as he gave up a tie-breaking solo shot to Lane Adams on an 0-1 changeup in the fifth. The Phillies’ offense could not get Nola off the hook. Odubel Herrera got picked off first base in the top of the sixth and the replay actually drew chuckles from the crowd when it was shown on the big board. (That’s what it has come to.) The Phils then left the bases loaded in the ninth. 

Nola is 16-6 with a 2.45 ERA in 32 starts. His WHIP is 0.98. He has struck out 216 and walked 54. 

Whether his season is over or not, it has been a great one.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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