2018 Recaps

Aaron Nola outduels Max Scherzer as Cy Young/MVP case becomes more real

Aaron Nola turned in one of the finest starts of his career in one of the biggest moments Thursday. (Brian Michael/PhilliesNation)

In Roy Halladay’s first two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, there was a feeling that if the Phillies scored one or twos runs with Halladay pitching, he would take care of the rest. More than half a decade later, every Aaron Nola start is starting to get that feel as well. His 2018 season is also starting to feel like one that’s going to garner serious consideration for the National League Cy Young Award and perhaps even the National League MVP.

What’s that saying about you have to beat the best to be the best? With all due respect to Jacob deGrom’s very serious case for both awards, Nola squared off with Max Scherzer, a serious contender to win both the National League Cy Young Award and MVP. Not only has Scherzer been one of the finest players in the game in 2018, but he’s been one of the era’s best pitchers. Scherzer, 34, is a six-time All-Star, who has won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards. When you add in the American League Cy Young award that Scherzer won in 2013 while pitching for the Detroit Tigers, he’s putting together a very strong Hall of Fame case.

And Scherzer didn’t hurt his Hall of Fame case Thursday. One of the game’s last true workhorses, Scherzer threw 109 pitches in seven innings, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits. Unfortunately for Scherzer, one of those two hits was a two-run home run by Odubel Herrera. Also unfortunately for Scherzer, Nola, who made his first All-Star appearance at Nationals Park earlier this summer, was prepared to beat the best.

Through the first seven innings of his start Thursday, the 25-year-old righty was the perfect mix of dominant and economical. Nola used just 81 pitches through seven innings, including allowing just two hits between the fouth and seventh innings. He also mixed in some wiffle-ball type filth:

The only thing that stood in the way of Nola throwing his first complete game of the 2018 season was a high-leverage eighth inning that saw him allow two runners to reach base. But just as it appeared that Nola was running out of gas, he reached back and found a 95 MPH fastball to strike out six-time All-Star Bryce Harper:

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, probably correctly, elected to hand the ball to Pat Neshek in the ninth inning. Neshek recorded a one-two-three ninth inning, preserving a Phillies win and Nola’s 15th win of the 2018 season.

In total, Nola went eight shutout innings, allowing just five hits and striking out nine. Though there was some that thought that he should come out for the ninth-inning, a high-leverage eighth inning that saw him throw over 20 pitches prevented that. Nola did top the 100-pitch mark in the eighth inning, with some suggesting that’s why he didn’t return for the ninth. However, he’s thrown more than the 102 pitches he tossed Thursday 11 times in 2018, including in his previous start against the New York Mets. Nola didn’t come back in the ninth because of how much energy he had to expend in the eighth, not because a sabermetrically-inclined coaching staff had their brains collectively short-circuit when his pitch-count topped 100.

In any event, Nola entered the day with a 2.24 ERA, 13 points higher than the 2.11 ERA Scherzer entered the day with. After this afternoon’s contest, both now have 2.13 ERAs. Nola improved to 15-3, beating another Cy Young Award and MVP contender in the process. Are head-to-head matchups overrated when voters decide who should win an award? Probably, but national voters can only watch so many games, and it is easy for them to break a tie by looking at a head-to-head matchup. And this one definitively went in the favor of Nola.

Nola and Scherzer are scheduled to square off again next week at Citizens Bank Park. It’s possible the reverse outcome could take place. But Thursday, Nola outpitched a potential future Hall of Famer. And you better believe that voters were watching.

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  1. mario fiore

    August 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Amazing !!!

  2. Ken Bland

    August 24, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    I wouldn’t exactly argue with the decision to let Neshek throw the 9th, especially since contrary to large quantities of public belief, there’s still a post season race going down.

    CY related, here’s the deal.

    I believe I read earlier this week that there have been 10 complete games thrown in the once proud NL this year. Pardon me, he wrote, for not updating that figure since 2-4 days have passed since that time, and that means an extra 30 some games have been played. Ah, the sarcasm. But if that figure is accurately recalled. my freaking goodness, just to put it in context, a way back in the day, there were average pitchers that challenged or surpassed that mark over the course of the year. Used to be terrific attention grabbing fun watching especially the good and great ones get stronger as the game went on as they tried to negotiate 9 full. With adjustments, it can still be fun watching a bullpen used, but its not the same, and due respect to the salaries mandating better care for arms, shame on them for taking that away from us.

    Having lost that fun aspect, wouldn’t it be ironic if Nola wins 20 (plus) and the outdated stat of pitcher’s wins plays a small attention grabbing start toward establishing SOME space in SOME voter’s mind (s). I get the irrelevance of pitcher’s wins, but it used to be fun this time of year tracking who would, should, could hit the 20 mark. Even Jim Merritt for the ’71 Reds with a 4 plus ERA before 4 was a fashionable ERA was “fun” to follow en route to his 21 W’s..

    Lots of adrift there (damn, I can drift with the draftiest of ’em) but to my point, while the pitching change was maybe the right thing to do, this is one HOT race. 3 MARVELOUS pitchers having marvelous years all, and for goodness sakes, not ONE named Kershaw. The race for the CY is closer than 5 of 11, and adding to it, the 3 guys all pitched yesterday, intensifying the drama. Next Tuesday, Max is at Aaron. So if one of the guys can do something special, like a no-no, or a CG, or do a Rick Wise and hit 2 smackers in 1 game, every little step can’t hurt. If Aaron had pitched the 9th successfully, he’d have an extra fraction of a millimeter on his ledger card, and it wouldn’t have hurt. An assertive move like that might make the difference.

    Any of the 3 strike me as worthy candidates for MLB’s version of the heavyweight championship belt. And all 3 at least seem like terrific guys as well (whatever prompted Max to argue with Stras, I have not a clue). It’s gonna be fun the rest of the way.

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