As the Philadelphia Phillies try to stick in the playoff race with thin pitching, deploying Aaron Nola as much as possible is the only logical plan.
After allowing two runs on four hits over seven innings against the Boston Red Sox Tuesday, Aaron Nola has a 2.13 ERA with a 10.1 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9 over his last 12 starts as his ERA for the season has dropped from 4.89 to 3.51. The Philadelphia Phillies are 9-3 in those outings.
Entering Wednesday, the Phillies are two games back of the second Wild Card in the National League at 65-60. Jake Arrieta is headed for elbow surgery and is done for the season, and their starting rotation was already thin behind Nola during his recent resurgence. Their collective starters’ ERA is 4.54 (16th in MLB). Take out Nola, and all other Philadelphia starters have posted a 4.95 ERA. An injury-thinned bullpen has also struggled, with a 4.59 ERA as a group (17th in baseball).
With 37 games left entering Wednesday, every win will count for the Phillies. So putting their best out there is a prerequisite, and according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia using Nola every fifth day regardless of days off is on the table.
That means Nola would make seven more starts, and perhaps most importantly he’d be lined up to start the regular season finale against the Marlins on Sept. 29.
Here’s a look at Nola’s remaining starts if the every-fifth-day plan is carried out.
Sunday at Miami
August 30 vs. Mets
Sept. 4 at Cincinnati
Sept. 9 vs. Atlanta
Sept. 14 vs. Boston
Sept. 19 at Atlanta
Sept. 24 at Washington
Sept. 29 vs. Miami
The Phillies, in general, have given Nola an extra day between starts whenever they can and more often than not. On the customary four days’ rest in his career, he has a 4.49 ERA over 52 starts compared to a 2.60 ERA over 58 starts on five days’ rest. His strikeout and walk rates are close to each other in each subset, which points to a bit of general randomness reflected by a hits allowed per inning rate 0.22 higher and a slightly above average BABIP allowed (.323) on four days’ rest. But the plan to pitch him every fifth day no matter what doesn’t look that great based on Nola’s track record.
But given the alternative — extra starts from the likes of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Drew Smyly, Zach Eflin or Jason Vargas — the Phillies have to use Nola as their workhorse. If they wind up missing the playoffs, it’s better to have done it by putting their best pitcher on the mound with the best theoretical chance to win as often as possible down the stretch.