All of a Sudden, Cole Hamels Isn't Having That Bad a Season

All of a Sudden, Cole Hamels Isn't Having That Bad a Season

If you were to list the biggest reasons the Phillies underperformed in the first half of the year, Cole Hamels' rough start to the season might not be #1--Doc's shoulder surgery after giving up 33 runs in 34 innings would probably be tough to unseat there--but it'd certainly be top five. Through the end of June, Cole was 2-11 in 17 starts, the first pitcher in the majors to ten losses, with other thoroughly mediocre numbers like a 4.58 ERA, a WHIP around 1.3 and a 3:1 K/BB ratio. It wasn't as catastrophic as Doc's beginning, but it was pretty damn far from what we expected for our presumptive ace and recent $144 million signee.

But have you looked at Cole's numbers recently? OK, the record is still pretty brutal--5-13, with Cole's 13 losses leading the NL (and tied with Lucas Harrell and our old friend Joe Blanton for most in the majors), but that's largely a matter of run support, with Cole only getting about three a game on average from his offense. The rest of his stats are looking a whole lot better, though. The ERA is down to 3.65, the WHIP down to 1.194, and the K/BB up to 3.56:1. It's still not as good as his last few seasons, but it's not totally out of their realm either--and at the very least, he's separated his 2013 from his relatively disastrous 2009 (4.32 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, just 168 total Ks), which looks secure for another year in its status as the worst year of Cole's career.

Maybe the most encouraging thing of all is that Cole's going deep into games again. In those first 17 starts, he only went seven innings or deeper five times, but in his eight starts since, he's gone seven-plus every time but once--including last night's nine-inning, one-run effort against the NL-best Braves, his first complete game (and a scrapped-together ninth-inning run from being his first shutout) of the whole season. With the team's bullpen as much of a s---show as it is currently, we need those kind of pen-saving efforts from our best starters, and it's a hell of a relief to see King Cole stringing together those kinds of outings again. (Hopefully he won't have to go 123 pitches too many more times, though.)

If Cole continues on this pace for the rest of the season, it wouldn't be surprising if his final line ends up looking virtually identical to his last few Cy Young-caliber-type seasons, minus the beyond-redemption Won-Loss record. Watching Cole in prime form might also be one of the only reasons to keep tuning into this team as the season winds to a close--especially if the once-dominant Cliff Lee's season keeps going in the reverse direction.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”