When Cole Hamels forced Daniel Murphy to ground out to second base with two outs in the top of seventh inning last night, he didn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserved.
Perhaps, Max Scherzer’s equally matched brilliance and the Cubs’ continued offensive silence muddied things up a bit (and then David Bote’s walk-off grand slam forced everyone to black out), but Hamels had just retired his 18th straight batter of the night, delivering *the single best start* by a Cubs pitcher this season (by Game Score):
Cubs 2018 GS Leaderboards:
- Cole Hamels: 83
- Kyle Hendricks: 82
- Jose Quintana: 82
- Jon Lester: 80
- Lester, Hendricks, Quintana: 78
When the Cubs traded for Hamels earlier this year, I know many of us had hoped he’d get a little statistical pick-me-up from the Cubs’ overall energy and competitiveness – channeling, even, Justin Verlander’s late-career success/resurgence upon being traded to the Astros. And you know what? He might be. Of course, I can’t say he’ll continue to be as good as he has been so far, but I do know that he was about as dominant as he could have been last night.
Watch the highlights from his 7.0 IP, 1H, 1ER, 1BB, 9K performance:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 13, 2018
And, hey, as for feeding off the energy: “This is why I play the game,” Hamels told Cubs.com after yesterday’s win. “I do love the game of baseball with all my heart, but to be in the spotlight, big games against big-time pitchers, that’s what I live for.”
That’s what he lives for and that’s exactly what he delivered.
During Hamels first start of the season, he struck out 9 Pirates thanks, in his words, to the strength of his change-up, which recorded an impressive 9 whiffs on the evening. Of course, part of the reason his change-up was working so well was because his fastball had risen in average velocity to a new season high.
And after taking a small dip in his second start with the Cubs, the lefty’s four-seamer was right back up at the top of its game:
For just the second time this year, Hamels was averaging over 94 MPH on his fastball, something he’s never actually done over the course of an entire season, and it paid off big time. While that fastball, alone, generated just two swings and misses, his changeup, which plays off of it, accumulated seven whiffs! All together, Hamels got 16(!) swings and misses on the evening, leading to his second 9K game for the Cubs this season. That’ll play. That’ll definitely play.
Also like his first start with the Cubs, Hamels forced a TON of stuff into the ground (69.2% ground ball rate) last night, which helps when you’re also allowing hard contact on 38.5% of the balls in play – that part is not so good, but complete manageable (understandable even) when you’re getting swings and misses so often.
As for playing up to the moment/feeding off the Cubs energy, Hamels says the adrenaline is real and really does affect him on the mound (Cubs.com): “Anytime you get placed into a pennant race, you start to discover a little bit more that’s in the tank …. It’s nice to actually be on their side this time. Being here at Wrigley, getting the fans being you and getting that momentum, it gives you that jolt of energy that you can use.”
He likes playing in big games against big-time pitchers for a team in a pennant race in front of the crowd at Wrigley Field? Welcome to the Cubs, Mr. Hamels. I think you’ll like it here just fine. Also, you busy this October?
For what it’s worth, Hamels manager, Joe Maddon, noticed a similar uptick in Hamels’ “high-end” stuff lately, saying he’s not seeing any drop off from his younger days, before adding that he “was really good,” and ” had it all going on” last night. Here was Maddon caught on mic talking to Hamels when he was removed from the game:
Communication is key. 🔊 pic.twitter.com/JEF4tFnSwn
— MLB (@MLB) August 13, 2018
David Bote’s walk-off grand slam might’ve rightly stolen the headlines last night, but Hamels was so very good. In fact, he was better than any Cubs starter this whole season.