With Aaron Nola’s remaining starts being shifted, he may not be able to start any potential wild-card game. Who would then start for the Phillies?
The Phillies announced before Wednesday’s loss that Aaron Nola‘s spot in the rotation was once again shifted. He will start Friday against the Mets, lining him up to make two starts against the Braves at the end of the season. Those starts could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs, so using Nola as much as possible is key.
However, there is one downside to moving Nola’s future starts. His last one is slated to come on Sept. 28 in the third-to-last game of the season. Meanwhile, the NL Wild-Card Game will be Oct. 2. This would put Nola on pace to get just three days rest for a potential Wild-Card Game start.
Of course, the chances of Philadelphia earning a wildcard are slim. They are 4.5 games back of the second spot with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks just ahead of them. The actual odds of the Phils coming back and getting one of those wild cards are just 1.9% according to Fangraphs, but the chance is still there.
The possibility exists for Nola to start the game on three day’s rest. It’s certainly not unheard of when the playoffs roll around as managers try to keep their best pitchers on the mound. The leash is also much shorter on a starter during the playoffs, making three day’s rest less burdensome. Nola has never pitched on three day’s rest before in the majors, but this hypothetical situation would be the best time to do it.
In the event Gabe Kapler doesn’t want Nola to start on three day’s rest, the next option would be Jake Arrieta. He is the team’s only starter with any major-league playoff experience during his time with the Cubs. Arrieta started the 2015 wild-card game against the Pirates, delivering a complete game shutout with just five hits and no walks allowed while striking out 11 batters. Granted, that was the Arrieta who won the Cy Young; the Arrieta now pitching in Philadelphia is much different.
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After allowing four runs in 7.1 innings to the Marlins Tuesday night, Arrieta’s ERA for the season is 3.61. He has a 1.248 WHIP, 2.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 4.20 fielding-independent pitching. His numbers have been inconsistent all year with his ERA varying greatly by month. How he pitches down the stretch could determine if the team is comfortable with him starting a potential wild-card game. His last start is slated for Sept. 26, so he would be well-rested for the NL Wild-Card Game.
Other than Nola on three day’s rest or Arrieta, there aren’t any great options. Vince Velasquez is expected to pitch the final game of the season, so he would only be available out of the bullpen at best.
Nick Pivetta has the ability to completely shut down the opponent, but he has been far too inconsistent to rely on in a sudden-death game. Zach Eflin has struggled recently with a 5.51 ERA in his last nine starts.
With the way the rotation is slated, starting Nola on short rest may just be the best option. Arrieta is a solid alternative thanks to his playoff experience, but there aren’t any other options without things getting crazy.