Déjà vu for Nola as another NLDS start vs. Braves approaches

Righty set to start Division Series Game 3 in Philly vs. Atlanta for 2nd straight year

October 11th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- twice called the Phillies’ loss to Atlanta in Game 2 of the National League Division Series “heartbreaking.”

At the very least, it was a wasted opportunity.

“But we got another chance, right?” Nola said Tuesday afternoon.

Nola will start Game 3 of the NLDS on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. Other than Zack Wheeler, there is nobody the Phillies would rather have on the mound.

Nola pitched seven scoreless innings against Miami in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series last Wednesday. He is 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his last three starts, striking out 19 and walking one in 19 2/3 innings. Nola has a 3.50 ERA in three starts this season against the Braves and is 12-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 18 career starts against them at Citizens Bank Park.

“We’re very familiar with each other,” Nola said.

Game 3 is critical in a best-of-five series, but if the Phillies need extra motivation, FOX Sports reported that Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia was walking through the home clubhouse following Game 2, cackling and repeatedly saying, “Ha-ha, atta-boy, Harper,” referring to Bryce Harper’s baserunning mistake that ended Game 2.

“Really?” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “I don’t think anybody needs any motivation right now. But if that adds to our motivation, that’s great.”

What the Phillies really need is a big performance from Nola, similar to the one he gave them in this exact spot a year ago. It was Nola who, with the NLDS tied at a game piece and the series moving to Philadelphia, led his team to a 9-1 defeat of the Braves by surrendering only one unearned run over six innings. Philly then closed out the series the next day.

For Nola to have similar success this time around, it will require getting ahead of hitters and eliminating big innings. He had 11 innings this season in which he allowed three or more runs.

“I feel like any one of their guys can hit home runs at any time, and they're pretty fast on the bases, too,” Nola said. “So any time we can try to eliminate the big inning and try to get them out early, they’re a team that can spoil some pitches on you and work good at-bats. So [it] all comes down to execution and just try[ing] to get them out anyway.”

Fans might be able to tell early if Nola is on his game or not. In his final 13 regular-season starts, he had six quality starts (at least six innings and three earned runs or fewer) and seven non-quality starts.

For that home stretch, let’s call them good vs. bad starts.

Overall strike percentage:

  • 6 good starts: 70.3%
  • 7 bad starts: 64.8%

First-pitch strike percentage:

  • 6 good starts: 68%
  • 7 bad starts: 61.1%


Nola averaged 6.7 whiffs per game on his curveball in his six good starts with a whiff rate of 34.2 percent. In his last four non-quality starts, he registered a combined 10 swings and misses with his curve, and a whiff rate of just 25 percent.

Four-seam fastball damage:

  • 6 good starts: Batters hit .272 with a .432 slugging percentage against Nola’s four-seam fastball. They had just three extra-base hits in 44 at-bats ending on a four-seamer.
  • 7 bad starts: Batters hit .341 with a .636 slugging percentage against it. He allowed nine extra-base hits in 44 at-bats ending on the pitch.
  • Nola threw only 14 four-seamers in his Wild Card Series start last week against Miami. It was his fewest thrown in a start since Aug. 15, 2020.

“Just got to get ahead,” Nola said. “They’re obviously going to have a different approach to me than they do [Wheeler]. Wheels threw great [Monday] night, dominant again against those guys. That's what he does against a lot of teams. But I think it comes down to trying to get strike one against these guys and getting ahead and staying ahead.

“It’s a matter of execution. We know how good they are. It's obviously not going to be an easy one, but we’ve got to battle. I know we will, and [we’ve] just got to compete as best we can.”

With each start Nola makes, there’s also the reality that it could be his last with the Phillies. Nola, a first-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2014 MLB Draft, is due to become a free agent at season’s end. 

But that’s not top of mind now. He’s ready to use the backing of the home crowd to ensure there’s a few more starts to come this month. 

“I think we have the best home-field advantage in the league,” said Nola. “I think our crowd is the rowdiest, and we love playing in front of that. And I feel like it is tough sometimes for opposing teams to play in this stadium, but we like it a lot. We feed off of it, and the fans are in it from pitch No. 1 until the very end, which is pretty special.”