Aaron Nola outduels Max Scherzer, stakes his claim for Cy Young

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The Nationals had taken two in a row from the Phillies heading into this afternoon’s contest and had to feel pretty good about their chances given that two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was on the hill. The only problem: Aaron Nola was on the hill for the Phillies and, on this day, Nola was better.

The Phillies’ ace tossed eight shutout innings, allowing only five hits and striking out nine Washington batters. He threw 102 pitches, 70 of which found the zone. He was sharp and dominant all afternoon long.

The ninth batter he punched out was Bryce Harper, who came to the plate with two out in the eighth inning with a chance to give the Nats the lead or, at the very least, a chance to put them on the board and back in the game. After Adam Eaton doubled and the speedy Trea Turner walked, a mere double would’ve tied the game, but Nola bore down and, on a 2-2 count, fired in a 95 m.p.h. fastball and got Harper swinging:

Just blew it right by him. His 102nd and final pitch and probably his best.

Pat Neshek closed the game out in the ninth giving the Phillies a much-needed win as they try to catch the Braves in the NL East.

On a personal level, though, Nola made a statement today. He, Scherzer and Jacob deGrom all have an argument for the Cy Young Award this year, but  given that some voters may hold deGrom’s record — 8-8 after today’s no-decision against the Giants — against him, and given his head-to-head victory over Scherzer today, one has to consider him the frontrunner. Heck, he may also be one of the frontrunners for the NL MVP Award given that no offensive player has made a clear claim to the hardware yet.

On the pitching side, today Nola lowered his ERA to 2.13 — tying Scherzer and trailing only deGrom’s 1.71 — and upped his record to 15-3. The Phillies are 18-4 when Nola starts. One might say that’s . . . valuable.