Nola, Phils aim for split with Cubs, but Lester looms

(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

(AP) -- Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto sensed a special outing was brewing from Aaron Nola before the right-hander even fired a pitch that counted against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.

"Really, I could tell in the bullpen," Realmuto said. "His stuff was extremely explosive in the first inning. I don't think he missed a spot in the first inning."

The premonition came true as Nola struck out 12 while allowing only one run in six innings. He will look to maintain a strong recent stretch as the Phillies close a four-game road series against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday afternoon.

Following a rough beginning to the season, Nola (4-0, 4.47 ERA) boasts victories in three of his past six starts, and he is 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in four starts in May. Nola has struck out 28 batters in 20 2/3 innings in that span while walking eight and allowing two home runs -- five fewer than he surrendered in April.

Those are encouraging signs for the Phillies. A resilient Nola typically means an effective one.

As Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper told reporters after Saturday's game, "That was Noles being Noles."

"He doesn't cry in his soup," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Nola. "He's not thinking about the last outing he had. He's already on to the next one. The reason that we saw him come out like lightning (Saturday) is because of the work he did between starts. It's the consistency of that work."

In three career starts against the Cubs, Nola is 1-1 with a 5.12 ERA.

Philadelphia is seeking a split of the Chicago series after losing two of the first three games in the meeting of first-place clubs. The Cubs have rallied to win the past two contests after the Phillies took Monday's series opener in 10 innings.

Chicago center fielder Albert Almora Jr. delivered the key blow on Wednesday, smacking his first career grand slam to provide the go-ahead runs in an 8-4 victory -- the Cubs' seventh win in their past 11 games.

Left-hander Jon Lester (3-2, 2.09 ERA) is slated to get the call for the Cubs on the heels of his worst start of the season. Pitching against the Washington Nationals on Saturday, the veteran allowed five runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings.

The 10 hits allowed matched the most in a single start against Lester since he joined the Cubs before the 2015 season.

"I just couldn't repeat my mechanics," Lester told reporters after the game. "I couldn't repeat pitches. I'd make a good one, and then three bad ones. It seemed like when I made a good one, they'd foul it off. For the most part, I found too many barrels. Even the outs were hard hit."

Lester, who missed two weeks in April while recovering from a hamstring injury sustained during the Cubs' home opener, reached enough innings after Saturday's start to qualify for the National League ERA lead.

Trouble was, Lester's struggles spiked what had been a 1.16 ERA, taking Lester out of the top spot.

Despite the hiccup in Washington, Lester is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA in four May starts, with 23 strikeouts and three walks in 24 innings.

Lester has a terrific record against the Phillies, going 8-0 against them with a 1.49 ERA in 10 career starts.

--Field Level Media

Updated May 23, 2019