Phillies

Trade deadline moves might not matter for Phillies if they don't get their ace, Aaron Nola, back

Trade deadline moves might not matter for Phillies if they don't get their ace, Aaron Nola, back

ATLANTA — Equally important as the result of the Phillies-Braves series this past weekend was another high-stress, low-quality start from Aaron Nola.

Nola just can't find a groove this season. He's made 15 starts. In his first five, he had a 6.84 ERA. In his next five, he had a 2.30 ERA, limited the homers and walks and looked like he was back to himself. Then in his last five, he has a 5.65 ERA and has walked 15 batters in 28⅔ innings.

He is not hurt. He says his body and his arm feel good. He's not pitching through pain or altering his mechanics because of an ache. He just isn't pitching well. He isn't locating his four-seam and two-seam fastballs consistently. His curveball, a pitch that has led him to success since his teenage years, has at times lacked its trademark snap and at other times hung over the plate. His changeup, a key pitch against lefties that took him to another level in 2018, has not been effective.

"I want to get it straightened out soon," Nola said after giving up five runs in 4⅓ innings to the Braves on Saturday. "I feel like I have a good start, bad start, OK start, bad start, just up and down. It's kind of how the year's been for me. 

"Walks and home runs hurt me this year. I feel like getting ahead is the key for me. I haven't been doing that too much but a lot of times I'm barely missing. That's pretty much been the big thing for me."

Last season, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time, second-best in MLB behind only Miles Mikolas. This season, Nola's first-pitch strike rate is down to 58.8 percent. That ranks 64th out of 86 qualifying starters. It's a worse rate than the often wild Aaron Sanchez and barely ahead of Yu Darvish, who has struggled for two years to throw strikes.

Walks and home runs really have told the story of Nola's 2019 season. In 15 starts, he's surrendered 13 home runs. It took him 29 starts to allow 13 home runs last season.

In 81 innings, he's walked 36 batters. It took him 131 innings to walk 36 batters last season.

It will be incredibly difficult for the Phillies to win the division or advance in the postseason if Nola continues to pitch like this.

"His command hasn't been where it needs to be consistently to be the ace that we know he's going to be," manager Gabe Kapler said Saturday. "Again, I have no concerns or worries about Aaron Nola turning the corner. And when he does it's going to be fun to watch. He's going to get nothing but support from us because we know he's going to be a horse for us down the stretch and we're excited for that moment."

When will that moment come? We won't know until Nola has reeled off five, six, seven good starts in a row. 

The issue would stick out even more if the Phillies' offense wasn't bailing Nola out the way it has. He is 6-1 despite a 4.89 ERA. The Phillies have gone 9-6 in his starts. Wondering why? Because they've scored 64 runs in the 81 innings he's been in the game. The only National League pitchers who have been given more run support are Milwaukee's Brandon Woodruff and Atlanta's Max Fried.

Baseball isn't like the other sports. Split-second events determine success or failure. For a pitcher, missing by an inch here, an inch there can change the complexion of a start, a month, a season. In our 2019 season previews, we were careful here to note that you couldn't just expect 2019 Nola to be 2018 Nola. It's not how it works at baseball's highest level. All the good developments do not translate from one year to next. Players have career years and then regress. 

It was pretty clear that 2018 was a career year for Nola — guys just don't maintain a 2.37 ERA over 200-plus innings often. Roy Halladay, for example, had an ERA that low in only one of his 16 seasons and never in a full season had an ERA+ as good as Nola's. (ERA+ measures a pitcher's ERA relative to the league average that year. Nola's last season was 73 percent better than the league average; Halladay's career-best in a full season was 67 percent.)

The thing is, Nola right now hasn't even looked like the pitcher he was in 2017, when he had a 3.54 ERA with sterling strikeout and walk numbers. The guy is putting 1.56 men on base per inning this season.

Trade deadline acquisitions, players returning from injury ... in the long run, none of it will matter if Nola can't be a front-of-the-rotation starter.

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Best pranks in Philly sports history

Best pranks in Philly sports history

You know what we miss about live sports? The games. The competition. The unknown outcomes. Absolutely all of that. But also all of the shenanigans that go on before and after the games.

Our favorite goofy players having a gag with each other is just fun. We miss it. So in honor of today being April 1, we put together a fun video featuring some of the greatest pranks in Philly sports history.

One of the more elaborate pranks in recent memory is when the Phillies players convinced pitcher Kyle Kendrick he had been traded to Japan. You all likely remember that.

But do you remember when Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn messed with Manute Bol or when John Kruk and Ed Wade got Chase Utley after the rookie got his first big league it?

Throw in a little Fletcher Cox / Chris Long Twitter trolling for good measure and you've got yourself some of the best pranks in Philly sports history. What were your favorite Philly sports related pranks?

 

Still in awe of this crazy Jimmy Rollins accomplishment over a decade later

Still in awe of this crazy Jimmy Rollins accomplishment over a decade later

Our classic Phillies game re-airs continue tonight with the final regular-season game of the 2007 season, a 6-1 Phillies win over the Nationals that wrestled the NL East crown away from the Mets, who had famously held a 7-game lead in the division with 17 to play.

The Phillies were abruptly swept in the NLDS by the Rockies but prior to that, they were on fire. From Sept. 13 through the end of the regular season, the Phils went 13-4 and the Mets went 5-12.

Jimmy Rollins, who began that season by calling the Phillies "the team to beat" in the NL East despite their 14-year playoff drought, finished it by winning NL MVP. Rollins had a storybook season with his bat, with his glove, with his legs and with his mouth.

One of the most unique accomplishments in Phillies history was achieved by Rollins late in that 6-1 win we're re-airing Wednesday night. Jimmy always had a flair for the dramatic, as these memorable moments illustrate.

Sitting on 777 plate appearances for the season, Rollins stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Phillies were winning, there might be no bottom of the ninth and you figured it was likely going to be his final trip to the dish. Rollins needed one more triple to become only the fourth player in baseball history with at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season.

As Rollins reached the batter's box for that 778th plate appearance — still a big-league record — the only thing on the minds of Phillies fans watching was the hope that Jimmy would finish the job and hit that triple.

If you watch baseball, you understand that a player can't go to the plate trying to hit a triple. Triples are about solid contact, fortunate placement, speed and aggressiveness. Last season, for example, players hit a triple in just one of every 250 plate appearances. There were about 11 times more doubles and nine times as many home runs.

Ridiculously, impossibly, Rollins hit that 20th triple in his last plate appearance of the season.

In the history of baseball, the only players to achieve this feat were Rollins and Curtis Granderson in 2007, Willie Mays in 1957 and Frank Schulte in 1911. It's so random that it happened twice in the same season after occurring just once in the previous 94 years and not at all since.

The Phillies, who won the division by one game in '07, needed absolutely everything Rollins gave them that season. None of these were empty-calorie stats. 

Many Phils fans will remember the fateful four-game home series against the Mets Aug. 27-30 that summer, a four-game sweep for the Phillies that made a division crown actually feel realistic. Beginning with that series, Rollins hit .335 over his final 34 games with 6 doubles, 5 triples, 8 homers, 22 RBI, 31 runs scored and 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts. The Phillies went 23-11.

"The triple — I was stuck on 19 for a while," Rollins said years ago. "Milt Thompson (the hitting coach) was saying, 'You'll get it on your last at-bat, a little drama.' I was like, 'Of all guys, (Luis) Ayala,' because I never hit him. 

"The count was 3-and-2 and I said to myself, 'Don't be dumb. He's going to throw a slider, sit on it.' He threw it. I knew Austin Kearns was in right field and he could throw but I went for it. I remember going hard into [Ryan] Zimmerman. If I didn't go for it, I would have been upset. The crowd was just incredible that day."

Rollins was just incredible that season. He narrowly beat out Matt Holliday for NL MVP in one of the closest votes ever. Rollins received 79% of voting points to Holliday's 75%. Holliday had better offensive numbers (he hit .376 at Coors Field that year) but Rollins had the better story and the better all-around season.

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