I described Aaron Nola's strikeout of Bryce Harper in Thursday's win over the Nationals as "huge" when I tweeted out what had happened. Someone responded that "huge" was an understatement. And now, a few hours removed from the strikeout, I have to agree. There's a chance that Nola's performance — which was punctuated by his eighth-inning whiff of Harper — could be the game that saved the Phillies season. A loss Thursday would have sent the Phillies to Canada riding a five-game losing streak with the Nationals closing in on second place and the Braves leading by four games. But Nola answered the bell. What's a bigger word for huge? Enormous? That works.
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Aaron Nola has a case to win the Cy Young
Gabe Kapler does not have a Cy Young Award vote, but that won't stop him from campaigning for Aaron Nola.
The Phillies manager threw his support behind Nola on Thursday afternoon, saying Nola's performance against the Nationals was proof that he should be the Cy Young winner,
"It's tough to account for three pitches and I think part of that is why Aaron Nola in my opinion is the Cy Young this year," Kapler said. "Of course, Nola is our guy. But. I watch him every time out there and just the dependability, the consistency, the creativity, the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves. I think today was an example of how he beat Max Scherzer."
Nola's eight shutout innings lowered his ERA to 2.13, which edges out Scherzer by one ten-thousandths of a point (2.1301 vs. 2.1302) for the second-lowest mark in the National League behind the Mets' Jacob deGrom. Nola's 15 wins trails Scherzer by one for the second-most in the NL and his WHIP (0.97) batting average against (.198) are the second-best rates in the NL behind Scherzer's 0.89 WHIP and .178 average against. Nola leads the National League in OPS against with a .539 mark and has a better home run rate than both Scherzer and deGrom.
The Cy Young is not awarded in August, which gives Nola plenty of time to catch Scherzer and deGrom in the categories that he trails closely behind. And he'll be chasing them in the middle of a playoff race. He'll have the chance to prove Kapler right.
"For me, he's got the stuff, he's got the tools, he's got everything," Jorge Alfaro said when asked if he agreed with Kapler. "For me, yeah."
I knew Thursday was a big game when David Murphy arrived in the Nationals Park press box. The obvious story from Thursday's win was Aaron Nola's big day, but The Cheese dug deeper and wrote about Maikel Franco's ability to grind out long at-bats against Max Scherzer, which led to a game-winning homer from Odubel Herrera. The Phillies have used this approach all season and it could be what helps their lineup make a postseason push.
The Phillies received good news Wednesday night when Wilson Ramos said he would be able to stay off the disabled list, but bad news followed Thursday morning when Justin Bour hit the DL with an oblique strain. Bour strained his right oblique last season and missed more than a month. He said this year's left oblique strain is not as severe and hopes to make a quick recovery.
Gabe Kapler has used quite a few different labels for Aaron Nola this season, but he offered a new description on Thursday: "creative genius." It was hard to argue with that term after Nola and Jorge Alfaro decided in the middle of an at-bat against Bryce Harper to stop throwing curveballs and blow Harper away with fastballs. It worked and it was the strikeout of the season so far.
Tonight: The Phillies open a three-game series in Toronto, 7:07 p.m.
Tomorrow: Canadian Nick Pivetta faces the Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez closes out the series, 1:07 p.m.
Monday: Phils return home for three with the Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Odubel Herrera's homer yesterday off Max Scherzer made Herrera 13 for 39 with a .960 OPS against Scherzer. Since Herrera debuted in 2015, 28 major leaguers have faced Scherzer at least 20 times, and just three of them have a higher OPS against Scherzer than Herrera.
"I know he's a great pitcher, we're all aware of that, but I just see him as a normal pitcher," Herrera said.
What allows him to treat one of baseball's best pitchers as a "normal pitcher"?
"I think in large part Odubel's success hinges on his timing," Gabe Kapler said. "There's a little dance that occurs between a pitcher and a hitter every time the hitter walks up to the plate. There's a rhythm that occurs and if you're synced up to the pitcher and you feel like your timing and rhythm is where it needs to be, you feel confident. I think there's a timing component to this. Odubel's at-bats and his rhythm and his timing matches up well with Scherzer."
From the mailbag
Question: How does one go about determining WAR, both for active and retired players? Do beat writers know how to do this or do they just rely on a stat service? – emailed question from Don M.
Answer: I'm not a mathematician, so I don't do my own WAR (Wins Above Replacement) calculations but instead rely on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs to spit out the numbers. The stat is calculated using different methods depending on the website. BWAR (Baseball Reference's WAR) has six components for position players: batting runs, baserunning runs, runs added or lost due to grounding into double plays, fielding runs, positional adjustment runs, and replacement-level runs based on playing time. You can read about their method here. Your question also reminded me that Aaron Nola leads all pitchers in WAR. There's another argument for his Cy Young case.