In the middle of a playoff race, the Philadelphia Phillies want Aaron Nola to pitch as much as possible.
That’s why manager Gabe Kapler moved up the Phillies’ ace to start in Sunday’s series finale against the Chicago Cubs. Jon Lester takes the ball for the Cubs, who are trying to win the three-game series.
The Phillies are looking for their first series win in four weeks. The Cubs have won nine of their last 11 games.
Nola, whose 2.10 ERA ranks second in the National League behind Jacob deGrom, finished August on one of the best stretches of his season.
Nola has a 0.64 ERA in his last four starts, giving up two earned runs and 16 hits in 28 innings. The 25-year-old has 33 strikeouts and seven walks during that span.
The Phillies are three games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East after their loss Saturday. The team is 19-8 in Nola’s 27 starts in 2018, and Kapler was quick to move him up in the rotation.
“Mostly because Nola is awesome,” Kapler said to MLB.com, explaining the decision. ” … Nola has been tremendous and we wanted him starting sooner than later.”
Nola will be on usual rest because of the Phillies’ off day Thursday. It also gives Nola an extra start at Citizens Bank Park, where he is 9-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 13 starts this season.
Nola is 1-0 with a 4.61 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs.
Lester (14-5, 3.67) has been dominant against the Phillies in his career. He is 7-0 with a 1.64 ERA, 0.978 WHIP and .204 batting average in nine starts against Philadelphia. The 34-year-old has not faced the Phillies this season, but also owns a 1.29 ERA in four starts at Citizens Bank Park.
The Cubs have won in each of Lester’s last three starts, and he has a 2.04 ERA during that stretch.
Chicago saw the return of third baseman Kris Bryant on Saturday. Bryant was playing for the Cubs for the first time since July 23, coming back after missing time with left shoulder inflammation.
Bryant, the 2016 MVP, went 2-for-4 with a double in his return, and is batting .279 with an .858 OPS this season.
“My shoulder is fine,” Bryant told MLB.com before rejoining the Cubs’ lineup. “My shoulder feels good, strong. I’ve taken all the precautions to make sure it does feel good, which is taking a month off and tweaking some things here and there.
“I don’t know if he’s going to give me a day off because of the shoulder or because of feeling physically tired, but my shoulder feels good.”
Sunday marks the final regular-season meeting. Chicago has taken three of the first five games against Philadelphia.