That’s what I’m talking about.
That was 100% unadulterated ace shit from Aaron Nola for eight innings last night in what was basically a must-win game.
“But..but…there’s no such thing as a must-win game in July. There’s three months left!”
Saw some of this sentiment out there last night, and typically I would agree, because I, too, understand how a calendar works, but that was a must-win game. Forget the standings, odds, and projection models, the Phillies need to send a message to the Braves this week that they are not going away. In order to send that message, they need to win this series. In order to win this series, they needed to get the opener with their best pitcher on the mound, with the rollercoaster ride that is the Nick Pivetta Experience on the mound tonight, and with National League All-Star pitcher Mike Soroka looming on Thursday night.
Oh, and don’t look now, but the Phillies will have to deal with both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard this weekend in New York, so yeah, Nola delivered in a big spot.
Last week, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told reporters that his team’s playoff fate would be primarily determined by the improved play of the guys already on the current 25-man roster—not outside reinforcements—and he was right. That starts with Aaron Nola, who the Phillies desperately need to recapture something resembling his 2018 form over the final three months if they’re to reach the postseason for the first time in eight seasons.
Nola failed to complete five innings in four of his first 15 starts on his way to compiling an uncharacteristic 4.89 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. Opponents also hit .271 against Nola with an .800 OPS in those 15 starts, the last of which was a concerning 4.1 IP performance against the Braves in which he surrendered five earned runs. There would be no repeat performance last night.
Look at what he’s done over his last three starts:
- 23 IP
- 1 ER
- 11 H
- 28 K
That’s a 0.39 ERA, dropping his season ERA a full run from 4.89 to 3.89 in that stretch, while opponents have hit only .138 with a .407 OPS against him. That, uh, will play.
Last night, he used a blend of 57 fastballs, 38 curveballs, and 22 changeups to baffle a Braves lineup that is second in the National League in OPS. He used his changeup more than he did in that failed 6/15 start at SunTrust Park, helping set up his fastball and curveball.
Let Freddie Freeman tell you about it:
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) July 3, 2019
But perhaps more notable was the uptick in velocity on his four-seam fastball. He averaged 93.8 mph on it last night compared to 92.7 mph last month, partially explaining the increased percentages he generated in both swinging strikes and called strikes from that last start. It also helps when you can spot it like this:
Aaron Nola’s fastball command is back!
— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) July 3, 2019
And mix in curveballs like these:
Aaron Nola, Back-to-Back 80mph Curveball Swords. ⚔️⚔️ pic.twitter.com/QUAYwxNFwI
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 3, 2019
But there were two additional contextual aspects that, to me, made Nola’s performance even more impressive:
- It didn’t come during a comfortable 6-0 win where he could simply coast through low-pressure innings. Instead, it came during a game in which his offense managed to scratch across only two runs, leaving him without much margin for error.
- The eighth inning. Credit Gabe Kapler for sticking with Nola after a quick seventh in which he threw only seven pitches. Kapler trustred Nola in the moment, letting his guy run it up to 117 pitches, and, man, the final one didn’t disappoint:
Aaron Nola’s strikeout of Freeman to end the 8th reminded me of the K of Harper last August in D.C.
Last night was his best and most important performance since. pic.twitter.com/GtJimmcP1i
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) July 3, 2019
The good news for the Phillies is that they won an important game and appear to have their ace back. Now, they need someone else in this rotation to emerge and join him. Nick Pivetta, you’re up next.