Phillies reduce magic number to 9 with second straight win over Braves

Phillies reduce magic number to 9 with second straight win over Braves originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Aaron Nola is the longest-tenured Phillie. Rhys Hoskins isn’t far behind. During their time with the club, they have never played in a postseason game. They both want it to happen this year. Badly. On Friday night, they backed up their desire with a couple of clutch performances in a very important stretch-drive victory over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

Nola pitched six shutout innings and Hoskins drove home four runs in the 9-1 victory.

The win pushed the Phils a little closer to a place they haven’t been since 2011 – the postseason. They are locked in a three-team battle with San Diego and Milwaukee for the final two NL wild-card spots. The Phils’ lead over Milwaukee, currently the last team out, is 2 ½ games and the Phils also hold a tiebreaker over the Brewers based on head-to-head record. There are 13 remaining in the regular season and the Phils’ magic number for entry to the postseason is 9.

Nola received a break before the game even started as Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr., did not start for a second night in a row because of a sore lower back. Six days earlier, Acuna Jr., almost single-handedly beat Nola with a two-run homer and a two-run double in Atlanta. The Braves swept that three-game series. The Phillies have won the first two of this four-game series with lefty Bailey Falter set to face 19-game winner Kyle Wright on Saturday afternoon.

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Nola, who debuted with the Phillies in 2015, has faced the Braves 29 times in his career with 23 of them coming since the start of 2018. There are no secrets between the two sides. Beating a team that sees you that much requires precise pitch execution, from location to the change of speeds. Nola had a little bit of everything going in this one. He wasn’t as economical as he would have liked, throwing 104 pitches in six innings, but he got 18 swings and misses, five each on his four-seam fastball and curveball, four on his changeup, three on his cutter and one on his sinker. He allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out eight.

Poor Septembers have plagued Nola in recent seasons. This one has been quite good. The Phillies have won three of his four starts and he has allowed just five earned runs in 21 2/3 innings for a 2.08 ERA.

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Run support, at times, has been an issue for Nola, but it wasn’t in this one. The Phils’ offense struck for four runs against right-hander Jake Odorizzi in the second inning and four more in the fourth.

Hoskins was in the middle of everything for the Phils. He reached base four times with a single, a double, a homer and a walk. He drove in two runs with a two-out double in the second and two more with a homer in the fourth. Hoskins, who debuted with the Phillies in 2017, is now one home run shy of his second 30-homer season with the club. He hit 34 in 2018. He missed significant time with an abdominal tear last season but still hit 27 in 107 games.

Slumping Bryce Harper struck out twice, walked and delivered a run with a sacrifice fly. He is 10 for 67 (.149) this month with 26 strikeouts.

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