With the Philadelphia Phillies coming home for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series, they have the opportunity to clinch the NL pennant for the second straight year and book their ticket to the World Series.
And the man they're sending out to the hill, in front of what will undoubtedly be a wild and raucous Citizens Bank Park, is their best chance to get them to where they want to go. In a starting pitching rotation that features Zack Wheeler, who has been historically dominant this postseason, it's hard to imagine Rob Thomson possibly having an even better option up his sleeve.
But that's exactly what Aaron Nola is right now for the Phillies. The soon-to-be free agent has pitched the postseason of his life in these MLB playoffs. He has made three starts since the calendar flipped to October and put on performances that have erased any doubts built up during his rocky 2023 season.
Aaron Nola's 2023 postseason résumé is superb
As inconsistent as the six months of the regular campaign were, his postseason has been the polar opposite; the righty has been a model of consistency. He boasts a 3-0 record with a 0.96 ERA — no, that's not a typo. He has a 0.75 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings of work. He has been absolutely stingy.
The stats are even more impressive when you look at at each playoff start individually.
In the Wild Card Series, Nola went up against a Miami Marlins team that had hit him hard over three regular season starts (6.75 ERA and five home runs). In a satisfying about-face, the 30-year-old dazzled in his series-clinching Game 2 start. He went seven shutout innings, scattering three hits while striking out three and walking one.
Then came the Atlanta Braves. Pitching in Game 3, after the Braves had stormed back for a momentum-shifting Game 2 win, Nola dominated the best regular season offense. He stopped them in their tracks, holding them to two runs while striking out nine over 5 2/3 innings and allowed his team to take back momentum and the series lead with a big 10-2 win.
Most recently, Nola threw a brilliant performance against the Diamondbacks in Game 2 of this NLCS. He went for six innings and kept Arizona from scoring on three hits while striking out seven.
Now, Nola will take the ball again with a chance to cement his place in the lore of the Phillies' 2023 postseason run. For his part, the veteran has been watching and studying in preparation for the biggest start of his season to date.
"I just try to learn as much as I can on the bench. I love watching the game," Nola said when speaking about his Game 6 start. "I love watching our pitchers and what they do ... I try to learn the opposing team as much as possible. You know, if I can take anything away from one of our pitchers, what they did to a hitter or whatnot, I do that."
Hopefully, Nola was studying Zack Wheeler's Game 5 gem and can replicate something similar tonight.
With the Phillies nine innings away from their second consecutive NL pennant, Nola has a chance to punch his team's ticket to the World Series for a shot at redemption after falling short in the Fall Classic last year.