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.