Aaron Nola must step up if Phillies want to make the postseason

After winning eight straight, the Phillies went 2-4 last week. Granted, it was not an easy week playing the Dodgers and the Reds. One is the second best team in the NL, and the other has been playing much better than the Phils. They were in position to finish the week at .500, however Aaron Nola looked like he has most of the season.

Not very good.

After a solid outing, albeit rain shortened, against the Dodgers, Nola was back to being the inconsistent pitcher we have seen lately. He gave up six hits and four runs in 4⅓ innings, all of which came with two strikes. Nola recorded only one more out than he did Tuesday, and that start was short due to weather. He didn’t have the stuff to put players away when he got to two strikes, a theme for most of his season. It was the 11th time in 24 starts that he has pitched five or fewer innings, though rain shortened one of those starts.

While it wasn’t the worst he has looked this year, Nola did not look comfortable on the mound. In his 4.1 innings, Nola threw 88 pitches. For someone with the track record that he does, throwing 88 pitches that early is not ideal.

That being said, 88 pitches should allow you to finish off the inning. What should be more concerning to Phillies fans is that he didn’t finish the inning. I understand that he walked the bases loaded, but he could have navigated through the inning. Instead, Joe Girardi went to the bullpen, asking them to throw 4.2 innings. That lack of confidence is concerning to say the least.

Usually during the month of August, Nola has his best work. Being from Louisiana, he is used to pitching in high heat, high humidity games. That being said, late summer success isn’t that surprising. Even after two disastrous starts this month, his career August ERA is 2.96. It is very on brand for the Phillies to have their perceived No. 1 pitching so erratically in a playoff race.

Nola was not happy with himself after the start, which is becoming more of an occurrence lately. “I didn’t command the baseball today and it hurt me,” Nola said. “It’s frustrating, especially going for a series win.”

The loss at the hands of the Reds Sunday was not just his fault — the offense was just as inconsistent. However, you need your leaders to step up in big games when called upon. Nola has not stepped up this year when called upon.

If the Phillies want any chance at breaking their playoff drought, they need Nola to snap out of his funk. We have been saying that for much of the season. Now, I am beginning to wonder if he even can. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

September has not been kind to Nola in his career. He has started 27 career games in the month of September, going 7-12 with a 4.28 ERA. Many of those games came when the Phillies were already out of the race. Add the pressure of a playoff race, and the results could get worse.

Not exactly the words you want to hear as a Phillies fan.

Believe it or not, the Phillies are only five games out of the second WC spot. The Padres, who hold the second spot, have been in a free fall recently, tightening the gap in the standings. While the Reds are not in division, they are in the thick of the Wild Card standings. It looked like two NL West teams would be running away with those two spots, but that has since changed.

There is not only an opportunity to win the division, but to slide into the last wildcard spot if needed. All the Phillies have to do is to take care of their business, especially with an upcoming series against San Diego this week.

For what it’s worth, Nola believes he is going to turn it around.

“I’m going to do everything I can in my will to do that,” he said. “We don’t have too much longer left in the regular season. It’s kind of a sprint now. I believe it will always turn around and we can keep winning. I’ll always believe that.”

One has to wonder if that belief has taken a hit over the last four plus months.

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