It’s the final countdown. Aaron Nola, the Phillies’ ace, takes the mound at 3:10 pm. It may be too late for the team already. But right now he represents a last gasp for the Phillies to get into the playoffs. On the final day of this COVID-shortened 2020 MLB regular season, the Phillies’ fate will finally be determined.
The Phillies have a fighter’s chance at making it into the playoffs. They must win their game at Tampa. All the while they will be watching the scoreboard, needing both Gabe Kapler and the San Francisco Giants as well as the Milwaukee Brewers to lose.
The Phillies would maintain a slim chance at reaching the postseason if they win, the Giants lose, but the Brewers win. That would require the Saint Louis Cardinals to also lose today and then lose both games of a makeup doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Convoluted, I know.
None of it matters if Nola and the Phillies don’t hold up their end and gain a final day victory.
The 27-year-old right-hander has enjoyed a fairly typical year. Nola has accumulated 90 strikeouts for a career best average of 12 K/9 innings. His ERA is 3.06 with five wins and four losses. Nola tossed his first complete game of the season, albeit a shortened seven-inning one, during a September 11 doubleheader against the Miami Marlins. He allowed three hits, no runs, no walks and struck out 10 in a vintage performance that day.
The Phillies and their fans could certainly use a repeat of that on Sunday. His last two outings, however, have been a bit of a struggle. Nola yielded five runs against the New York Mets over 5.1 innings, and then three earned (five total) against the Nationals in a six-inning outing. Nola must come out today with the mental toughness to put those starts behind him and focus on this one last game.
It’s no secret the Phillies haven’t been playing their best. Injuries, especially to Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, have cost them valuable run production. But they go into this potentially final day with more than Nola to lean upon.
Rookie of the Year candidate Alec Bohm has been a major surprise, hitting .338 with four home runs and 23 RBIs. Another pleasant surprise has been the production from and overall play of backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He has received significant playing time this year due to Realmuto’s injuries and with the addition of the DH as a lineup option for Joe Girardi. Knapp has always been a solid defensive catcher. This year he brought his bat as well. Knapp is currently batting .286, well above his career .230 average. Didi Gregorius is hitting a solid .290 with 10 home runs.
Zack Wheeler has mostly pitched like an ace here in his first season with the Phillies. But last night when they needed him to be that ace once again, he faltered, allowing four earned runs on seven hits in a 4-3 defeat. The Phillies cannot afford to have Nola also falter.
It’s now down to game number 60. One can only hope Nola can dial up a gem and go the distance. No one wants this pivotal game to wind up in the hands of the wrecking crew currently residing in the Phillies bullpen.
Whether the Phillies prolong this season or not, Nola has a bright future ahead of him. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native is under contract through 2022 with an affordable club option of $16 million for 2023. He should be anchoring the staff for many years to come. But it would be nice if those years including playoff appearances. His first real chance comes today.