MIAMI -- This has been -- by far -- the best season of Aaron Nola's career.
The Philadelphia Phillies right-hander, who faces the Miami Marlins on Saturday, was part of a losing team in each of his first three seasons. The Phillies won just 63 games in 2015, 71 in 2016 and 66 last year.
This year, though, the sun is shining on the Phillies (53-40). Against all odds, they are in first place in the National League East, and Nola is leading the way, landing his first berth in the All-Star Game.
Nola, a 25-year-old native of Baton Rouge, La., has been paying dividends to the Phillies since they drafted him in the first round (seventh overall) in 2014 out of LSU.
He is 12-2 this season with a sterling 2.27 ERA. His career numbers are also strong, especially considering how bad the Phillies were the past three years. He is 36-24 with a 3.51 ERA for his career.
Against the Marlins, Nola is 3-3 with a 3.88 ERA. This year, though, Nola is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, tossing 7 1/3 innings of scoreless ball against the Marlins on May 2.
In his most recent performance, Nola beat the New York Mets 3-1, becoming the first National League pitcher this year to reach 12 wins. He allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings, striking out 10, and he also hit a three-run double.
"'Noles did everything imaginable," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told the media after that game. "Everything he could have possibly done, he did."
Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins raves about Nola just like everyone in the organization.
"He's fun to watch," Hoskins said. "I'm glad he's on our team."
Nola's counterpart on Saturday, by all accounts, will be overmatched. He is rookie right-hander Trevor Richards, who was signed by the Marlins as an undrafted free agent.
Richards (2-5, 5.24 ERA) has three quality starts in 12 appearances this year. He has not lasted past five innings in his past three starts, however.
In his 12 2/3 innings in those three games, Richards allowed nine earned runs. Even more concerning for the Marlins are the seven walks he allowed in 3 2/3 innings in his most recent start on Sunday against the Washington Nationals.
In his one start against the Phillies on April 8, Richards lasted four innings and allowed six hits, three walks and three runs.
The last-place Marlins (39-57), who were shut out 2-0 on Friday in the opening game of this weekend series, got back All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto for this series after he was out during a three-game paternity leave.
Realmuto, perhaps a bit rusty, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
In other team news, Marlins rookie center fielder Lewis Brinson is out indefinitely with a bone bruise.
"It's one of those things that will take a little while," Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the Miami Herald. "We have to be careful how we bring him back."
Meanwhile, the Phillies are being led by third baseman Maikel Franco, who slugged his 13th homer of the season on Friday. In 53 career games against the Marlins, Franco has eight homers and 35 RBIs.