The Phillies hoped to play so well this week in Washington that Aaron Nola’s start in Game 1 of Tuesday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Nationals would be his final start until the postseason.
In that alternate universe, Nola would skip his scheduled start Sunday against the Rays at Tropicana Field and instead pitch next week in Game 1 of the best-of-three National League Wild Card Series. But there is almost no chance of that happening now, and the Phillies might need Nola to pitch a gem in Sunday’s regular-season finale just to get them into the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Nola did not have his best in a 5-1 loss at Nationals Park. He allowed six hits, five runs (three earned) and two walks, striking out six in a six-inning complete game -- while the offense managed just one run against Nationals right-hander Austin Voth, who was 0-5 with a 7.17 ERA in nine previous starts. The defense committed two errors in the first three innings, after committing three in Monday’s series-opening loss.
Is this team playing tight down the stretch?
“I don’t think we are at all,” Nola said. “It’s baseball. You’ve seen it. Anybody can beat anybody on any day. We’re not pressing. We’re still going to go out and compete.”
Philadelphia fell to 27-28 with just five games to play, slipping into a tie for the eighth and final postseason spot with the Brewers and Giants, who played later Tuesday. There are many reasons the Phillies have struggled lately, losing 13 of their last 21 games, but one of them is this: They have not won with their two best pitchers on the mound.
The Phillies have lost three of Nola’s last four starts. They have lost Zack Wheeler’s last two.
“It’s always frustrating not being able to execute,” Nola said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, we’ve still got to compete. I feel like we’ve been competing. Things haven’t fallen our way. But we’ll still take it game by game. I don’t think we’re out of anything.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had some injuries here and there, but I feel like most guys are back now. I think a couple things aren’t really falling our way right now, but hopefully we can turn it around.”
Phillies rookie Mickey Moniak got twisted in left field in the first inning, allowing a fly ball to drop and Juan Soto to reach second on a two-out error. Soto scored on Asdrúbal Cabrera’s single to right field. After Nola allowed back-to-back doubles in the third to make it 2-0, he intentionally walked Soto to put runners on first and second. Trea Turner and Soto stole third and second base, respectively. Two batters later, Brock Holt hit a ball underneath first baseman Jay Bruce’s glove and down the right-field line to score Soto.
Bryce Harper had difficulty picking up the ball, which rolled between his legs to score Cabrera and make it 4-0. It was Harper's first error of the season.
“I felt decent,” Nola said. “I felt like I had most of my stuff. I left a couple balls over the plate, a couple fastballs and a couple breaking balls. Other than that, a couple infield hits, a bloop hit. But it’s just baseball.”
Nola has five days to prepare for Sunday’s start. It could be the biggest start of his life, and the biggest start for this organization in nine years.
“Every game from right now until the end of the regular season is huge,” Nola said. “Brush this one off and prepare for my next one. I think that’s what we’re all going to do.”