Misery (Hates) Company: Shaky Run Support Not Just a Cole Hamels Problem

Misery (Hates) Company: Shaky Run Support Not Just a Cole Hamels Problem

This year, the Braves, one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball, are providing ace Kris Medlen with a Salvation Army-generous... 2.86 runs of support per game.

The Giants, meanwhile, have plated just above the major league average for runs scored, but for top starter Matt Cain, have only mustered 3.14 runs of support.

At 2.86 runs of support per game, Cole Hamels, again the victim in last night's 2-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, falls in between.

So no, he's not alone.

You can hypothesize the reasons. Maybe it's that offenses actively coast when top starters take the hill. Or maybe they're just spent from trying to get their teams through the back ends of their rotations.

Whatever the case, fact is, Hamels' plight isn't just his.

Sure it's been bad for him this year. Despite a 2.41 ERA in his last six starts, Hamels is 1-3 in them because he's gotten two runs of support or fewer in four. On the year, the team is just 1-7 when their $144 million man gets the ball.

But what about Medlen? He's punched a a 3.25 ERA, and yet he's only 1-4. Worse, the Braves, only a half game under the Cardinals for the best record in the league, are only 2-5 in his starts. And remember: Medlen didn't have any sweep-this-under-the-rug starts like Hamels did.

And before you say that Jeff Samardzija is 1-4 and the Cubs are 2-6 in his starts despite his 3.09 ERA because Chicago doesn't score or win for anybody, keep in mind that they do, in fact, score for Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70 ERA) and Carlos Villanueva (1-2, 3.02 ERA), who've pulled 4.67 and 4.57 runs of support per nine -- more than anybody on the Phillies but Kyle Kendrick.

Speaking of: Kendrick so far has been a sweet surprise. But he's still been a surprise, right? (Right.) It stands to reason, then, that whether it's conscious or not, lineups bring their best stuff when they know they have to.

Look at the top 10: Jonathon Niese (NYM), Jon Garland (COL), Julio Teheran (ATL), Lance Lynn (STL), Yovani Gallardo (MIL), Juan Nicasio (COL), Adam Wainwright (STL), Tim Lincecum (SFG), Mike Leake (CIN), Patrick Corbin (think you're acquainted now).

With few exceptions, all are either back-end types (Gallardo, Nicasio, Leake), really young (Teheran, Corbin) or have no business being a 1 but were thrust there because the Mets are terrible.

Lincecum offers an interesting look, because he's a rare find: a once-at-the-top-of-his-game ace now reduced to so-called replacement level. His run support was decent in his back-to-back Cy Young years (4.57 in both). But with each passing year, during all of which he was still San Fran's opening day starter, his run support dwindled, all the way down to 2.81 in 2011.

Then, he unravels and gets relegated to the 'pen last year, and poof -- the run support returns.

Some guys have overcome it. Clayton Kershaw's only getting 2.38 RS/9, the fourth-worst in the league. But with the fourth-best ERA, he's 3-2 and Dodgers are at least 4-4 when he starts. Madison Bumgarner's 2.31 ERA has been enough to get him a 3-1 mark despite the sixth-fewest RS/9 in the NL.

Others just get it good. Wainwright, already the owner of a 2.72 ERA and the best K/BB ratio in baseball, gets 5.53 runs per game -- seventh-best in the NL. But Wainwright seems the exception.

For everyone dubbing Cole Hamels, "Cliff Lee 2.0," recall that Lee could be his own next generation. Lee this year is only getting 0.26 RS/9 more than Hamels, for the difference of 41 vs. T-47 on this list of 60.

Though at this rate, Phillies starters should be happy to get anything.

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.