That was the Aaron Nola everyone has been waiting to see – the one that, if he shows up in October, might make the Phillies as dangerous any team in the National League playoff field.

Nola allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings while completely shutting down a decent St. Louis offense that scored all of three runs over three games at Citizens Bank Park this past weekend.

For Nola this season, there have been occasional flashes of the top-tier pitcher (or second tier pitcher for those not quite as enthusiastic) he has been throughout most of his career. Outstanding starts against the Astros, Rays, and Braves, they all happened, but those efforts are easy to forget in the shadow of plenty rough outings and his frustrating inability to keep the baseball in the yard.

On Sunday, however, Nola delivered his second scoreless outing in 27 starts this season, pitching an inning deeper than he did in his six innings of shutout baseball against the Braves back on June 22nd.

A leadoff double to Tommy Edman and a fifth inning walk to Nolan Gorman. That was it.

In fact, Edman was the only St. Louis batter to reach scoring position until the ninth inning.

And while it’s the “what” that has everyone feeling good the day after, it’s the “how” that should be the cause for excitement.

Nola averaged 92.7 mph with his 48 four-seam fastballs Sunday, which is precisely in line with his 92.7 mph average fastball velocity this season, but he went to it on 51 percent of his 95 pitches. That pitch usage represented a significant jump from the 28.7 percent he’s gone to his fastball this season. With better location and a noticeably sharp breaking ball, Nola’s fastball played up, helping to finish off batters deep in counts.

This is how you make 93 mph work in 2023:

The consistent location and effective sequencing is something that hasn’t been there for Nola most of the season, and you have to wonder if maybe, possibly, he’s turning a corner as the month of September nears.

Last week, he survived a miserable first inning against the Giants before hitting cruise control over the final six frames. He took things to a different level Sunday, and for the first time this season, he allowed a total of fewer than four earned runs across consecutive starts.

After yielding 10 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings (three starts) to begin August, he closed the month by allowing just two earned runs over 14 innings (two starts) while striking out 14 and walking just two batters.

Maybe his surge stops here. Nola goes back into roller coaster mode much the way he has after previously stellar starts this season. Every inning goes back to a referendum on his status as a No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 – wherever you lie in what has been almost a decade-long debate – and each start serves as the latest reason not to find common ground on a multi-year deal.

Maybe this was just a tease against a St. Louis team that’s completely cooked. Maybe.

Or maybe the idea of October sequel starring the Phillies is gaining some steam beyond vibes, electric crowds and hopeful thoughts like “it happened last year, so…”

Well, Caleb Cotham Must Be Happy This Morning

Nola’s dominant performance was the exclamation point in the three-game series that saw Phillies pitching completely overwhelm Cardinals hitters.

Cristopher Sanchez, Zack Wheeler, and Nola combined to allow just nine hits, one walk, and three earned runs over 20 innings pitched.

The Phillies bullpen chipped in with seven scoreless innings while allowing one hit and just two walks.

Check out this staff line: 27 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 33 K

Nice little weekend for the group.

Starting Fast

When Edman clanged his leadoff double off the bottom of the Herr’s sign in the right field corner, it appeared a Phillies opponent would score first for the ninth straight game.

Not so.

Edman inexplicably made an aborted move to third on a grounder to deep short, Trea Turner made a heads-up play to throw behind Edman, and the Cardinals’ early threat was effectively eliminated.

The Phillies wasted no time ensuring there would be no slow start when Schwarber launched a massive 436-foot homer out to center.

For what it’s worth, the Phillies managed a 5-3 record dating back to last weekend despite falling behind early in all eight games.

So, does it even really matter if they score first?

Well, yeah.

The Phillies are 45-17 this season when they plate the first run and 27-41 when they don’t.

By the way, let’s talk about Schwarber for a moment. On pace to hit 45 homers, draw 125 walks, and drive in 105 runs. At .792, his OPS is its highest since April 16 when he finished play with an .830 OPS. Sorry to disappoint the fWAR crowd out there, but that will play.

Know what else I liked?

Fifth inning, Johan Rojas on second following a leadoff double, and Schwarber takes a first-pitch sinker pull side to move Rojas to third. Next batter, Trea Turner gives the Phillies their second run with a sacrifice fly.

Rob Thomson liked it, too.

“That’s one of the things the last two nights. We really did some good things situationally,” he said. “Move runners, leadoff double. Stott did it last night, Schwarber did it today. Sacrifice fly, we get a run, and so I’m really happy about that, too. We’re playing kind of playoff-type baseball right now.”

Is it better if he just rockets one off the LifeBrand signed hanging on the front of the second deck in that spot? Sure, but as Thomson noted, situational execution wins in the fall, so it was nice to see it on a day the offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders.