Phillies need Aaron Nola to pitch like a true ace in 2021
By Colin Newby
Looking at the downside of Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola
The ace of a starting staff is a pitcher who can be relied on for momentum when the team is struggling. An ace should be able to stop a losing streak when called upon. Nola has not consistently lived up to that title in key late-season starts over the past three years.
The Phillies lost 20 of 26 games during the beginning stretch in September 2018. Nola took the loss in a disappointing 8-1 effort against the Chicago Cubs on September 2, 2018, as the slide was beginning. He also allowed three runs in the first inning of a 5-1 loss against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals in a critical matchup on September 12, 2018.
These two starts looked like minor anomalies in an otherwise great season in which Nola was an integral contributor to a team that competed in the NL East for the majority of the season.
Nola’s struggles late in the season were looked at as more of a trend after the Phillies lost each of his final seven starts of the 2019 season. Kapler elected to start Nola on four days of rest over that span to get one extra start from his de facto ace on the final weekend of the season.
The Phillies sat at 72-65 entering Nola’s start against the Cincinnati Reds on September 4, 2019. The Reds tagged Nola for 5 earned runs in only 4 innings of work in the first loss of a crucial 22 game stretch where the Phillies posted a lackluster 7-15 record and wasted their chances to earn a wild-card berth.
Nola’s performance was up and down in his final four starts, but he failed to legitimize a role as an ace that the Phillies sorely needed.
The top end of the starting staff for Philadelphia was a team strength in the shortened 2020 season, as Zack Wheeler sparkled with a sub-3 ERA alongside Nola’s modest 3.28 number.
However, the 2020 squad’s character came into question as they faltered yet again during the final month of the season.
Nola took the hill on September 6, 2020, in an embarrassing 14-1 blowout at the hands of the New York Mets, who were helped by a stellar start from their ace Jacob deGrom.
The incredibly flawed Phillies team still had a chance to earn a postseason berth with eight games remaining due to the expanded MLB postseason field. Nola went 0-2 and allowed 6 ER in only 9.2 innings in his final two starts while the Phillies limped to a 1-7 record and missed the postseason for the ninth consecutive time.