Aaron Nola said he forgot it was September.
He may have been joking. He may have honestly mixed his days up, but he is aware of the reputation that follows him.
Nola isn’t the best pitcher in September.
Is the narrative a little exaggerated? Maybe, but his performance on Thursday against the Nationals didn’t help his cause. He threw four innings, left the game with the bases loaded against Juan Soto and was charged with six earned runs.
When he’s struggled this year, the fastball command is usually the issue. It was fine on Thursday. The problem was his curveball. Hitters were seeing the pitch pop out of his hand. He surrendered two home runs on the curveball while only getting one swing-and-miss on the pitch.
“Gettin’ it from all different angles about September,” Nola said. “Honestly, I’m kind of tired of it.”
Nola has a 4.51 ERA during the month of September in his career. Of his 28 career starts in September, he’s given up at least five earned runs in eight of them. He’s gone at least five innings in 24 of them, six innings in 13 of them and seven innings in nine of them. Only 11 of his 28 career September outings are quality starts.
It’s not as if Nola is incapable of giving the Phillies a fine outing in September. The bigger issue is that his worst starts in September happen to come at the most inopportune time. He lasted only four innings in a must-win game at Tampa Bay on the final day of the season in 2020. In 2019, the Phillies needed him to lead a starting rotation that was short on depth into the playoffs. Instead, Nola had a 6.51 ERA in five September starts that season. The Phillies lost all five of those starts.Embed from Getty Images
No matter what happens in September, 2021 will be considered a down year for Nola. His splits provide more clarity on what went wrong for him.
Nola’s ERA with runners on base is at 9.83, the highest it’s been since 2016. His 7.49 ERA with two outs is the second-highest mark for pitchers who have faced at least 190 batters with two outs this season. Nola had a 2.07 ERA with two outs in 2018.
Nola pointed out on Thursday that the fifth inning has “crushed him all year.” In 2020, Nola gave up zero earned runs in the fifth inning of games. This year, he’s given up 24 of them and has a 10.29 ERA. A clean fifth inning usually determines whether a starter has a good or bad outing, so it’s no wonder why Nola’s 2021 game logs are filled with duds.
2021 is a wake up call for Nola and it seems as though he’s already recognized that. He told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury on Sunday that he “[has] never been one to think about mechanics too much.” When he’s in a bad spot, Nola thinks he’s athletic enough to make the right pitch. Judging by his numbers with men in scoring position (16.59 ERA), that might not be the case anymore. He’s now playing catch on a mound as opposed to flat ground in order to get used to the slope of the hill and maintain his balance while on the rubber.
The struggles this year may have triggered a mid-baseball life crisis for Nola. It’s too late for him to salvage 2021 on an individual level, but he has five chances to help propel his team to the playoffs for the first time in ten years.
Maybe then people will stop talking about September.
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