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Phillies Nola faces Braves, turns attention to Cy Young

Sports Xchange
23 Sep 2018, 11:16 GMT+10

ATLANTA -- Aaron Nola's pitching has taken a downturn this month, mirroring the struggles of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Nola, though, still has at least a chance to earn some National League Cy Young Award votes while his team plays out the string.

The Atlanta Braves clinched the NL East title Saturday with a third straight victory over Philadelphia at SunTrust Park, this time 5-3, and Nola won't get a chance to keep the Phillies alive when he takes the mound in Sunday's series finale.

The Braves (87-68) took advantage of the 6-14 swoon in September by the Phillies (78-76) to clinch with more than a week left in the regular season after losing at least 90 games each of the past three seasons during the rebuild.

"It's been a grind, but this makes it all worth it," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said of the team's first division title since 2013. "We put it all together this season and it is fantastic.

"We all knew we had this in us. We just needed to see the young guys come through and they did. I came up and we were winning. To go through the last four years, you cherish these moments. It's been a long time for us to get back."

The Braves prevailed thanks to a 46-23 record against other teams in the NL East, including 10-5 against the Phillies with four games still to play.

Philadelphia rearranged its rotation so that Nola (16-5, 2.44 ERA) would start the finale of the series in Atlanta and the first game in Philadelphia next weekend. Now the 25-year-old right-hander just has Cy Young votes to pitch for and it may be too late there as well.

Nola entered September with a 2.10 ERA and near-equal billing with Washington's Max Scherzer and the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom.

After going 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five August starts, however, Nola is 1-2 with a 5.01 ERA in four September outings and the eight homers he has allowed match the total from his first 27 starts.

Manager Gabe Kapler is still in Nola's corner, though.

"I would just blindly vote for Nola," he said before the Braves series. "I care so much about Nola and his candidacy that I won't even go into expressing how I would evaluate. I think he's been the best pitcher in the National League."

Nola, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft out of LSU, has 210 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings and could join some famous Phillies pitchers this season.

In the past 50 years, only Steve Carlton (twice), Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have had at least 200 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.40 or better in a season among club annals.

Nola has had plenty of success against Atlanta. He is 6-2 with a 2.24 ERA in 10 career starts against the Braves, including 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in his three starts this season.

Veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez (6-6, 3.01 ERA) will pitch the series finale for the Braves and try to snap an eight-start winless streak. He has three losses and five no-decisions despite a 3.24 ERA during the stretch.

Sanchez hasn't faced Philadelphia this year but is 4-9 with a 4.91 ERA in career starts against the Phillies.

Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana has the most career at-bats against Sanchez from their time together in the American League, hitting .250 in 32 at-bats with three extra-base hits and six walks.

Freeman has a .318 average and a homer in 22 at-bats against Nola, and right fielder Nick Markakis had two homers in 25 at-bats and a .250 average in 25 at-bats.

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