Making his fourth start in a Chicago Cubs uniform on Friday night, Cole Hamels had been every thing the club could have asked for when they traded for the left-hander prior to the non-wavier deadline. A 4.72 ERA across 114.1 innings, producing an average ERA-plus of 100 in 20 starts for Texas lowered the price enough for a back-end-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in Hamels.
Despite those numbers, Hamels was good on Friday over seven innings in a 1-0 Cubs’ victory.
Even though his 2018 campaign had not started off on the right foot, the southpaw is one of the more accomplished active pitchers in baseball right now. The 34-year-old is a four-time All-Star with finishes in the top-ten in Cy Young voting in four different seasons. Additionally, Hamels has pitched another half season in October and beyond, racking up 98.1 innings of experience with 17.1 of those innings coming in three World Series starts.
For his efforts during the 2008 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies (two starts, 2.77 ERA, 13 innings and eight strikeouts), Hamels was awarded MVP honors, the current crown jewel in his resume.
Much of the talk surrounding the trade of Hamels from Texas to Chicago involved a change of scenery. The Texas Rangers’ stadium is known to be a hitter-friendly ballpark, not helping in Hamels’ struggles this season. In fact, prior to the trade, Hamels was sporting an ERA north of six in the Rangers’ home ballpark with opposing hitters slashing .289/.356/.555 off the southpaw. Away from Globe Life Park, Hamels had been a much better pitcher this season, posting a sub-3.00 ERA in 55.1 innings. To go along with that, Hamels held opponents to a .220/.315/.382 slash line when facing them on the road, numbers the Cubs’ brass figured would help the Cubs down the stretch.
Through four starts with his new club, Hamels is proving his new bosses right. The veteran southpaw’s first start with the Cubs came on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates, much like his start on Friday evening. In that August 1 outing, Hamels spun a gem over five innings of work, allowing just three hits and one unearned run. Additionally, Hamels punched out nine Pirate batters, bucking his middle-of-the-road strikeout rate of 22.7 percent with the Rangers.
If not for a lengthy couple of innings, Hamels would have been able to go deeper into that start a little more than two weeks ago. Instead, the veteran racked up 95 pitches rather quickly, something Hamels would not have to worry about on Friday night.
Part of the reason for Hamels’ manageable pitch count for much of the evening was due to the double play ball. After Hamels retired the Pirates’ lead-off man in the home half of the first, Starling Marte laid down an infield bunt single that was followed by a free pass. Despite Cubs’ pitchers letting those types of innings spiral out of control many times this season, Hamels was able to induce a rocket off the bat of David Freese that fortunately found the glove of Javier Baez who stepped on third base and threw across to Anthony Rizzo, completing the 5-3 double play.
An inning later, Hamels allowed the lead-off man to reach on a hit-by-pitch but was quickly able to erase him with a ground ball 5-4-3 twin-killing. That trend continued into the third inning as the Pirates’ lead-off man once again reached base, this time on a bloop single. Following a fielder’s choice to second base by the opposing pitcher Trevor Williams, Hamels induced yet another double play, this time off the bat of Corey Dickerson, ending the Pirates’ half inning.
In the fourth frame, the Pirates failed to bounce into a double play, while at the same time wasting their best chance to score off Hamels on the evening. A Marte strikeout to begin the inning was followed by back-to-back singles that put runners on first and second with one away. Francisco Cervelli then struck as Gregory Polanco, the lead runner, stole third base, sitting up a first and third situation with two outs. Hamels was able to get Josh Bell to fly to the warning track in right field, capping the Pirates’ threat.
All told, the Pirates swung themselves into seven double plays on the evening as the Cubs’ offense scratched across just enough offense to bring home the victory.
The entirety of that offense came in the top half of the second inning when Kyle Schwarber deposited a high fastball into the right field bleachers, giving the Cubs a 1-0 advantage. Schwarber’s home run in the second marked the 21st of the season for the left-handed slugger. With a month and a half of the season left, it’s possible that Schwarber could reach his career-high of 30 home runs set last season. However, Schwarber was slugging just .357 during the month of August entering play on Friday, suggesting nine more home runs this season may be out of the picture.
For the second straight night, the Cubs’ offense was only able to push across one run with Ian Happ‘s solo home run in the fourth inning on Thursday the only difference in a Cubs’ win.
These last two games have explained the Cubs recent lack of offense to a tee. Entering play, the Cubs ranked 12th in runs scored, 23rd in ISO, 18th in team batting average and 21 in wRC+ for the month of August. That comes after the Cubs have ranked near the top in those categories for much of the season.
Despite the lack of offense for yet another game, one run would be all Hamels and the pitching staff would need. Back on the mound for the seventh inning, Hamels allowed yet another runner to reach base. However, the Cubs turned their fifth double play of the night, of the 6-4-3 variety this time, putting the finishing touches on what was another solid outing from Hamels. The southpaw’s final line looked like this: seven innings, five hits, zero earned runs, two walks and three strikeouts on 98 pitches. While it seemed Hamels did not have his best stuff, the veteran was able to induce ground balls in key situations, keeping the Pirates off the board on Friday.
The game on the line in the ninth, Jesse Chavez entered the game with two outs to get. Having already induced their sixth double play of the night an inning prior, Chavez added to the Cubs’ total, getting Freese to bounce into a 5-3 double play following a walk to Polanco. That double play, the Cubs’ seventh of the night, tied a major league record and ended the ball game in a 1-0 Chicago victory.
With the win, the Cubs improve to 71-50 while the Pirates fall to 61-62 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will play game three of their four-game set with the Pirates on Saturday, August 18 at 6:05 p.m. at PNC Park. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Tyler Chatwood (4-5, 5.06 ERA). Chatwood will be called on to make the start after Mike Montgomery was placed on the DL Friday afternoon with left shoulder inflammation. Chatwood’s last three outings have been out of the bullpen and have not been any better than his starts this season. In 5.2 innings, the right-hander owns a 6.35 ERA, having walked five batters and struck out just three.
Opposing Chatwood on the mound Saturday will be Joe Musgrove (4-7, 3.49 ERA). Musgrove has been in a nice groove of late, posting ERA’s of 3.38 and 2.77 in July and August respectively. In his last outing, the right-hander yielded three earned runs on seven hits over six innings of work while at the same time striking out six and walking just one.
Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune