Sports are the ultimate proving ground of the phrase, “What have you done for me lately?” And it’s with this in mind that Aaron Nola will put his reputation at risk once again when the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves meet in Game 3 of their National League Division Series on Friday afternoon.
Tasked with keeping a powerful Braves offense in check, this is just the latest in a line of “biggest starts of his MLB career” for Nola. And maybe, just maybe, he was built for this. Think of how long it took to get here. Drafted by the Phillies in 2014 and debuting in 2015, his first teammates on the club included the likes of Cody Asche and Andres Blanco. He started his MLB career under one interim manager (Pete Mackanin) and has now finally reached the postseason seven years later under another one (his fourth manager overall) who was just officially extended a few days ago.
This Philadelphia Phillies playoff run could determine Aaron Nola’s legacy and reputation.
Aaron Nola has really seen it all during his time with the Phillies, and it just seems like he won’t let this moment pass him by. Perhaps his success down the stretch this season has changed the narrative. The knock on Nola has long been the way that he wears down at the end of the season, with his September struggles being well-documented over the years. And his skeptics were not wrong. September (and we’ll throw October in there with it) has been his worst month statistically, and it’s the only calendar page during which he sports a losing record over the course of his career.
This year, though, things clicked into place for the 29-year-old hurler.
In what may have been the most important start of his MLB career to date, given what was at stake, Nola shut down these same Braves back on September 23 to propel the Phils to an 8-1 win. Then, after a stinker in Chicago during that eminently forgettable Cubs series, he toed the hill in Houston on October 3.
Another clunker there could have seen his reputation completely crumble, but he was up to the task and earned the win that sent the Philadelphia Phillies to the playoffs. In this game, however, you must prove yourself time and time again. And so that’s why Nola needed last week’s performance in St. Louis to show everyone that he belonged among the elite. Maybe he’s finally put the “he’s not a big game pitcher” talk to bed. Still, more is demanded of him.
Legends are made in October. Just ask guys like Matt Stairs or Joe Blanton, let alone the star players who maintained their usual level of play and came up clutch in big moments on more than one occasion. For Nola and the rest of this current Phillies squad, there are no guarantees. Sure, you hope to be back in this position several more times in your career, but this could be your only crack at postseason glory. Shoot your shot.
It’s probably overly dramatic to say that Friday will be a career-defining start for Aaron Nola, although it is, of course, the biggest test he’s faced to date. In 2022, he delivered what was probably the second-best season of his career, and the Phillies needed every bit of it to get here. As I said back in June, his performance was going to make a difference for this team, for better or worse. Mission accomplished for the regular season. Now, though, we can’t just go the “playing with house money” route. This game, this series, is there for the taking.
Aaron Nola can upgrade his legacy in a big way in Game 3 if he simply repeats his recent performances. He may need to be even better if the Philadelphia Phillies continue to struggle at the plate. Either way, we can only hope that Nola’s next start won’t be his final one of 2022, because it would be rewarding for all of us to see how he performs when the pressure is ratcheted up even higher. We’ve been waiting for this for a very, very long time. Here’s hoping that Aaron Nola can keep answering the bell.