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Nola Contendere: Phillies 3, Braves 1

The Phillies have gotten hot so fast they sublimated from solid to gas. Tonight Nola, Kendrick, and Odubel led the team to a tight win over the Georgia Exurbs.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves
Oh hey, Aaron Nola has been here all along
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Hey look, this coin just landed upright on its side, and Scooter Gennet just hit four homers in one game. In related news, the Phillies have won their fourth in a row. For a second straight night, they took down the mighty second-place Braves and their potent mixture of mostly non-prospects and unwanted veterans.

Should we be excited by the Phillies’ whiplash pirouette? Maybe not because the Giants and Braves are bad. But the Phillies didn’t look this good against bad teams in May. Odubel Herrera might have rediscovered his ability to make good contact; Cesar Hernandez has broken out of his little slump; and the returns of Howie Kendrick and Aaron Nola certainly raise the talent level. I don’t have anything against Michael Saunders, but I also wouldn’t care if he never played again for the Phillies.

Speaking of Nola, he worked an efficient 8 innings, barely pausing for breaths after a shaky first inning. There he allowed his only run of the game on a back-to-back hits with one out. Only one of those hits were hit hard; so, we might have shrugged off the inning as an outlier. But the Braves seemed to be getting good swings that were just missing pitches. And although Nola’s whiffle-curve moved more than the Indian subcontinent after the break-up of Pangaea, he couldn’t locate it. At least not yet.

That 1-0 Braves lead lasted until the fourth inning. Jaime Garcia did not look all that special. He threw strikes and kept his curveball down. But he didn’t get that many whiffs and got by mostly on weak contact. Nevertheless, he took a perfect game into the fourth, retiring 10 straight batters, until Howie Kendrick drilled a hanging curveball into and out of the left-centerfield gap. Game tied.

Meanwhile, Nola began to cruise. As the game moved along—at a rather quick clip thanks to the pitching—Nola found his command over his curveball, often backing it up to the arm-side edge. In combination with the curve, he kept his changeup down and used it as an effective compliment to his fastball, which was generating lots of whiffs. All this added up to Nola being the first Phillies starter in 2017 to record an out in the eighth inning. (h/t David Cohen)

At the same time, Garcia’s grip on the game was slipping. Starting in the top of the 6th, the Phillies—now in their third time through the order—seemed to have his pitches pegged. Cesar Hernandez led off with a double down the leftfield line. Odubel followed with a fliner just inside the rightfield line for another Odouble that drove in Cesar. Howie Kendrick followed with a smash linedrive single to right to put runners on the corners with no outs.

Then, the wily Garcia pulled out a rare rally-killing balk. While facing Tommy Joseph, Garcia angled his right foot a bit too much toward home on a throw to first, plating Herrera and moving Kendrick to second. Garcia glared at the first base ump like glare at a manhattan with ice in it, but I forgive him for being wrong because I imagine he’s been getting away with that move for more than a decade.

After the balk Joseph struck out and Aaron Altherr ripped a line drive just within reach of Adonis Garcia, who doubled up Kendrick at second. Kendrick didn’t put up much of a fight, seeing as though he was already at third.

Into the ninth we went, the Phillies holding a 3-1 lead. Pete Mackanin turned the game over the Hector Neris, who has looked both great and terrible in the closer’s role this season. This time, Hector was not given a chance to look terrible because he didn’t last the inning but also didn’t surrender the lead. After inducing a pop-up, he saw Matts Kemp and Adams drill singles off his sinker. Mackanin wasted no time lifting Neris for the Phillies best reliever, Pat Neshek (aka Abracadabra). Neshek quickly recorded a strike out and pop-up, and poof, the game was over.

The Phillies now have two more games against the Braves. Win one and they will have won two series in a row. [gaping dead-face emoji]