Philadelphia Phillies: Against Scherzer, Nola stated his case for Cy Young

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola is having one of the best seasons ever for a Phillies pitcher as he currently finds himself smack dab in the middle of the battle for the Cy Young award.

Great pitching duels, when they happen, are truly something to behold. There’s just something so captivating about watching two dominant aces walk out to the mound each inning, standing in front of the other team’s opposing batters, and daring them to hit their stuff.

This spectacle is one of the best things about the game of baseball, yet it often gets overshadowed and underappreciated by casual fans, who would rather see a fireworks display at the plate that culminates in a 20 run game.

No, the pitching duel has its place in baseball, and fans of the Philadelphia Phillies had a chance Thursday to watch one of their own guys participate in a matchup that will surely be remembered as a classic.

Aaron Nola. Max Scherzer. Baseball Battle Royale.

While the Phillies came out of Washington with an important win in the final game of the series, it was what their ace did on the mound that had the baseball world buzzing. Had it not been for Nola’s virtuoso performance, the Phillies likely would have been swept out of Washington altogether, considering how inconsistent the offense has been.

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Just how good was Nola in this game? Well, in typical Nola fashion, he tossed eight scoreless innings, struck out nine batters, and sent Bryce Harper back to the pine in one of the more exciting and tense eighth inning matchups you’ll ever see. With the go-ahead run at the plate and runners on first and second, Harper stepped in, looking to deal the crushing blow to a stumbling Phillies team. Harper got ahead in the count 2-1, but Nola then turned up the heat, throwing two fastballs, the second which Harper fanned on, ending the inning and the Nationals’ threat.

It was simply an amazing sequence, one Phillies’ fans are not likely to forget any time soon. Nola was outright masterful. Through those eight innings, his curveball was untouchable, and when batters did make contact, they put the ball right where it needed to go to secure the necessary outs. Nola was everything you could hope for in a number one and more yesterday. The only real shame is that Nola didn’t get to finish the masterpiece himself, getting yanked after the eighth.

I’d be remiss not to talk about Scherzer just for a second. The Nationals ace was also fantastic and had it not been for an Odubel Hererra two-run home run that ended up being the winning at-bat, the game probably goes to extra innings, and the result there is anyone’s guess. Scherzer is a special player, and that’s probably underselling it.

But back to Nola. That single at-bat against Harper may have been a defining moment in the season not just for Nola, but for the entire Phillies team. If they now go on a run and start stringing together some series wins, this game will be the one we will look back to.

Besides securing a much-needed win for his ball club yesterday, what Nola did was secure his place firmly among the contenders for the NL Cy Young award. He now stands atop the NL mountain with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, both of whom are having top-notch seasons and are worthy nominees. In fact, it might be fair to argue that whoever is behind these three men is now a distant fourth.

Many believe that deGrom is a shoe-in for the award, and when you look at the season he’s having for the New York Mets, the argument is a strong one. deGrom has an ERA of 1.71, which is simply sensational and is the best in baseball right now. What’s even more incredible about that number is the fact that he’s done it with absolutely no offensive help from a Mets team that is 56-71 and currently sits 16 games out of first place.

Scherzer, likewise, has had a terrific season. He is fortunate to play for a better team in the Nationals, but even they have had their struggles this season and have only just started to climb back into the race. Scherzer sports a terrific 2.13 ERA and finds himself in the top three in almost every statistical category. He’s without a doubt one of the three best pitchers in baseball right now.

So where does that leave Nola? With Scherzer and deGrom posting such elite numbers, it may seem difficult to find room for Nola in the same conversation. But when you take a closer look, the numbers speak for themselves.

According to Baseball Reference, Nola and Scherzer now sport identical 2.13 ERA’s, which still can’t touch deGrom, but those numbers are second and third in the NL. While Scherzer tops the list in several statistical categories such as Total WAR (8.8), Wins (16), WHIP (.886), Hits Per 9 (5.747), and Strikeouts Per 9 (12.08), deGrom only tops the list in ERA and Homeruns Per 9 (.414).

Conversely, Nola tops the list in two categories, WAR For Pitchers (8.9), and Win-Loss Percentage (.833). But if you look even closer, you’ll see that despite not topping any other lists, he comes in either second or third in a bevy of others including Total WAR, ERA, Wins, WHIP, Hits Per 9, Innings Pitched, and Home Runs Per 9.

The numbers don’t lie: Nola is right there with the best pitchers in the National League, and he deserves some serious consideration for the Cy Young Award. While deGrom does boast the best ERA in baseball, one statistic does not and should not be the one true determining factor when handing out these prestigious accolades.

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Nola has been so incredibly valuable to this Phillies team. He’s the definition of a stopper, the guy you bring in to completely shut down the other team, and he’s lived up to that hype. The game against Washington served to put everyone else on notice: Nola is not going anywhere anytime soon.

The NL Cy Young race is shaping up to be a beauty. Between Nola, Scherzer, and deGrom, the final two months or so of the regular season in the National League should be incredibly fun to watch. And should the Nationals and Phillies somehow meet in the playoffs, we may again get a chance to see the titanic battle between two unstoppable forces.

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Yesterday was more than a baseball game. No, it signified a Rocky-esq moment in the City of Philadelphia. Aaron Nola has shouted his name from atop the mountain, and baseball has taken notice.