Phillies Analysis

‘Best rotation I've ever been a part of': Nola highlights teammates after outing vs. Nats

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Aaron Nola stood in the center of the clubhouse Sunday afternoon and said the kind of thing that makes headlines, is included on the chyron at the bottom of the television screen, becomes fodder for sports talk radio.

“This is the best rotation I’ve ever been a part of,” is what he said after pitching seven more strong innings in what turned out to be an easy romp over the Nationals, 11-5, at Citizens Bank Park.

Not that that’s a bold pronouncement. Nola was just graduating from high school in 2011 when the Phillies assembled the Five Aces rotation that ended the regular season with a franchise-record 102 wins. And the current group (including Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suarez, Cristopher Sanchez, Taijuan Walker and Spencer Turnbull) has a 2.63 earned run average. That's the best in baseball, so, yeah. . .

Still, it sort of highlights how good this team has been. Twenty games over .500 before Memorial Day. Tied for the best 48-game start in franchise history with the 1976 and 1993 clubs. The fact that only four teams in this century (2023 Rays, 2016 Cubs, 2006 Tigers and 2001 Mariners) have gotten out of the gate more quickly.

The Phillies are off Monday, then host the defending world champion Texas Rangers for three games. It’s obligatory to point out that Texas has not picked up where it left off. They’re 24-24, meaning the Phillies still haven’t played a team with a winning record since opening the schedule at home against the Braves.

Even against that backdrop, what they’ve accomplished has been impressive.

What stands out is how, in an era when starters pitch fewer and fewer innings, the Phillies rotation routinely works deep into games. The rotation has combined for 16 starts of at least seven innings already this season.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Nola said. “I love watching each guy go out there and compete. That’s pretty much the biggest thing we all do. The pitchability of every guy is so fun to watch. And they want to go deep in the game every time.”

Nola has logged more innings than any pitcher in baseball over the last three seasons. Sunday he was coming off a complete game shutout.

He gave up three runs (two earned) against the Nationals, his sixth quality start of the season. He also won the 96th game of his career, giving him sole possession of 10th place on the Phillies all-time list.

“I think it’s crucial for starting pitchers to want to go deep into games. I think the biggest thing is the want,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good arms down in the bullpen. We saw how they were used the last few years We need those guys fresh and throwing hard like they do. The more starting pitchers can keep those guys fresh (for the postseason) the better we’ll be.”

Manager Rob Thomson said it’s likely Walker, who had to leave his last start after being struck on the left big toe by a line drive, will be able to make his next turn.

That would mean Rangers RHP Jon Gray (2-1, 2.08) will face Suarez (8-0, 1.37) Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. Texas has not announced its starters for the final two games of the season but assuming Walker (3-0, 4.91) is healthy, he’ll get the ball Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. followed by Wheeler (5-3, 2.52) in the series finale Thursday at 1:05 p.m.

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