On a day when Aaron Nola’s September struggles stretched into a new season, the Phillies rallied from six runs down to beat the Washington Nationals, 7-6, on Thursday afternoon.
The win was the Phillies’ sixth straight and it gave them a sweep of the Nationals.
The Phils (69-64) entered the day just 2 games back in the NL East and 2 ½ games back in the wild-card race.
Twenty-nine games remain in the season.
This was one of the Phillies’ best wins of the season because they trailed 6-0 after five innings. Andrew McCutchen keyed the comeback with a three-run double in the sixth inning and an RBI single in the decisive four-run eighth.
The sizzling Phillies have scored at least seven runs in seven straight games for the first time since 1933.
That fueled confidence in the dugout even as the team was down six runs in the middle innings.
“Guys were talking,” McCutchen said. “We were saying, ‘Keep it at six because we’re going to score seven.’ We knew it. We were saying, ‘We’re going to score seven. It’s going to happen.’ “
McCutchen was asked if he had any other predictions, like, how will this month end up for the Phillies?
“In the world that we want it to be, we’ll be in first place and we’ll be raising that banner, winning the division,” he said. “We know we can do it. We know we have the schedule to be able to do it, so we just have to go out and do it.
“It’s an exciting month. This is what baseball is all about. This is what it all comes down to, so I’m looking forward to it. We all are. We’re just taking it day by day and having a lot of fun.”
Poor defense has hurt the Phillies all season. This time, an opposing team’s poor defense helped the Phillies. Nationals’ second baseman Luis Garcia failed to turn two potential double plays that would have ended the top of the eighth and that resulted in three Phillies’ runs, including the tying and go-ahead runs.
Archie Bradley protected the one-run lead with scoreless work in the bottom of the eighth.
Ian Kennedy survived a one-out double in the ninth for the save.
JD Hammer and Sam Coonrod also combined for a pair of scoreless innings as the bullpen kept the Phils in it and closed it out.
While McCutchen drove in four runs, Odubel Herrera had three hits and beat out a potential double-play ball in the eighth to allow the go-ahead run to score. Garcia had trouble getting a handle on the ball and Herrera capitalized. Garcia also butchered a hard-hit ground ball by Nick Maton that led to the tying run in the inning.
“Good things happen when you put the ball in play and that’s what we were able to do today,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Rookie catcher Rafael Marchan drew a huge walk during the uprising.
Marchan has started five straight games behind the plate and the Phils have won them all.
J.T. Realmuto returned to the lineup after missing the first two games of the series with a banged-up left ankle. He started the decisive eighth-inning rally with a double.
The Phillies did little in the early innings against Washington starter Paolo Espino. He opened the day with five scoreless innings before the Phils’ bats came alive. The Phils feasted on the Nationals’ bullpen for 13 runs in the series.
Despite the win, there was a troubling element to the day. Nola has been inconsistent all season and his struggles continued as he failed to get an out in the fifth inning while giving up six runs on the day. He gave up a solo homer and a two-run homer, both on hanging curveballs, with two outs in the third inning, then loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and watched from the dugout as all three runs scored with Bailey Falter on the mound.
This was not how Nola wanted to start the month that has given him so much trouble the last two seasons. In 12 September starts since 2019, he has an ERA of 5.37.
Nola figures to have five more chances this month to impact the playoff race. His team needs him in a big way. But he hasn’t inspired much confidence in recent Septembers.
“He’s got to find a way to get through this and do his job like he’s capable of doing,” Girardi said. “We know he can be outstanding and just as easily run off five good starts for us.”
The Phils play their next three in Miami.
The Braves, who lead the division, open a four-game series at Colorado on Thursday night. The Phillies will be watching that one closely to see if they can cut the deficit to a game as September starts to kick into gear.