All things are relative, but it seems we can put to bed the question of whether or not Aaron Nola will be a true ace in Major League Baseball. On Wednesday night, Nola pitched like you would expect an ace to pitch when his team needs it the most.
A night after the Phillies dropped a 10-inning game by a score of just 2-1 for a fourth consecutive loss, Nola dominated the Marlins with 7.1 innings pitched allowing just four hits while striking out seven batters and drawing just one walk. Sure, it was just the Marlins, but Nola did what aces are expected to do in these types of situations. He delivered and shut down the opposition. He left the game with a 4-0 lead and the offense tacked on two more runs to cement a much-needed win.
The win also improved Nola to 4-1 this season and he has yet to allow more than three runs in a game (just once has a team scored three runs on Nola, and that all happened in one inning against the Braves last week). Nola’s 2.17 ERA is sixth-best in the National League with the second-most innings pitched this season (Washington’s Stephen Strasburg has one more inning of work than Nola). Nola is also just one of eight pitchers in the National League with a WHIP under 1.00 (0.920). Of those pitchers, Nola is the youngest of the group.
The season is still relatively young at this point, so it remains to be seen if Nola will keep these averages where they are for the long haul. However, this may be the best the Phillies have seen of Nola as a starter since he made his major league debut in 2015. It may be player development right on schedule, but I also have to wonder just how much of an influence it is on Nola to have a guy like Jake Arrieta on the staff. It is not unfair at all to suggest Arrieta is the best pitcher on the same staff as Nola during the young pitcher’s career. Nola made his major league debut 10 days prior to the Phillies trading Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers. Since then, Nola has been thrust into being the front man of the starting rotation, a role he may not have been well-suited for prior to this season. But now, as Nola continues to mature as a starting pitcher, he has proven to be worthy of ace status for the Phillies.
Whatever the case may be, the Phillies have a 1-2 combo in Nola and Arrieta now that should be capable of keeping the team out of too many ruts this season.
There was a change at the top of the NL East standings last night with the Braves slipping ahead of the Mets. The recent struggles the Phillies have played through have set the Phillies 1.5 games back of the division-leading Braves, who have dominated the Phillies in their first three series this season. The Phillies are also a half-game behind the last wild card spot held by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs are also a half game out of the wild card and have the luxury of having two games in hand ahead of the Phillies. It’s far too early to focus on any playoff chase, but this just goes to show just how detrimental games in April and May can be later on.