(Photo credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola delivered his best start of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals last month before struggling in his first two outings of September.
Nola (12-9, 4.64 ERA) will hope to reprise that success against the Cardinals when the Phillies open a three-game series against them Friday in St. Louis.
Nola dominated the Cardinals on Aug. 27, blanking them for seven innings on one hit. He struck out nine and walked one while extending his history of success against them. He is 6-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 10 career starts against St. Louis.
But Nola has allowed 11 runs on 15 hits in nine innings in his two starts this month. He struck out 11 batters in those games and walked three.
The Phillies staked him to a 5-0 lead over the Miami Marlins in his last start, but he failed to survive the fifth inning.
"It's not mental," Nola said after that start. "I felt fine all day, until the fifth. It just unraveled, man.
"I feel like it's gone that way all year. One big inning does it in for me."
Nola said that his impending free agency hasn't been a distraction.
"I haven't really thought about it, honestly," he said. "I'm kind of worried about this year, and focused on trying to give the team a chance to win and turning that corner in my starts and get to the postseason."
The Phillies (79-67) still lead the National League wild-card race. But they arrived in St. Louis on the heels of a 2-5 homestand against the Marlins and Atlanta Braves.
"It's not like it's been non-competitive losses," Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber said. "We've been in it every single game. That's the positive thing. We're all going to regroup ... Get a little breather, refresh and be ready for a big road series."
The Cardinals (65-81) returned home after winning six of nine road games against the Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles. They won two of three games at each stop.
St. Louis will open this series with left-hander Zack Thompson (5-5, 4.06), who is continuing his bid to earn a rotation slot for next season.
Thompson has toggled back and forth between reliever and starting roles this season. He also shuttled between St. Louis and Triple-A Memphis.
But he settled in this month to earn victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates at home and the Reds on the road. Thompson allowed six runs on 12 hits in 12 innings in those games.
"He's just been on the attack," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "His stuff plays when it's in the zone. He's got plenty for a hitter. It doesn't matter, righty, lefty and he's been trusting it more.
Thompson did not face the Phillies earlier this season. In two career relief appearances against them last year, he didn't allow a run in 1 2/3 innings.
The Cardinals hope to get catcher Willson Contreras back in the lineup for this game. He sat out Wednesday's game with a hand contusion.
--Field Level Media