What Became of Cole Hamels, the Phils’ One 'Sure Thing' Entering 2013?

What Became of Cole Hamels, the Phils’ One 'Sure Thing' Entering 2013?

Of all the reasons Negadelphia could have thought up before the season began to explain why the Phillies would be under .500 five days into the month of June, somewhere near the bottom is Cole Hamels. If his name was there at all, it no doubt would have appeared next to the word “injury” or some variation of it.

Hamels is not hurt (that we know of). His contract situation was settled almost a year ago. At 29, Cole’s best baseball should still be ahead of him. Yet despite the seeming lack of obvious physical ailments and mental distractions, he is very much a part of the problem so far.

In fact, Hamels is tied with Joe Blanton for the most losses among all pitchers in Major League Baseball with nine entering Wednesday – already as many as he recorded in all in 2011, and more than in 2012. Equally as troubling are the club’s losses in his no decisions, bringing the Phillies to 1-11 in their ace’s starts this season.

And while we can all agree wins and losses aren’t always very good indicators of a pitcher’s performance – see Cliff Lee last year – this is well beyond that. Hamels’ 4.86 earned run average is 42nd out of 54 qualifying starters in the National League, which pairs well with ranking in the bottom 12 in hits, runs, home runs, and walks surrendered.

The difficult truth is those numbers don’t quite tell the whole story either. Hamels has given up fewer than three runs in half of his 12 outings, and no more than that in two others, so it’s safe to say the Fightins ought to have pulled a few more of those contests out.

Lack of run support notwithstanding, Cole hasn’t exactly been sharp. He was absolutely rocked in four of his outings, and even the "quality starts" are not what we’ve come to expect. Coming into Wednesday’s duel with the Marlins, Hamels hasn’t gone deeper than 6.1 innings since May 4, and only three times on the year at that.

It’s no secret his command has been the chief concern since Opening Day. He’s walked four or more batters three times already, which is completely uncharacteristic for Hamels at the big league level. Look at his 2013 WHIP of 1.338 and 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and compare it to his career numbers of 1.148 and 3.72. Both of them are way off of his normal pace.

Unfortunately we don’t really have any highly specific answers as to why. The best you can hope for is it’s a mechanical thing the pitcher can correct sooner rather than later. Maybe Domonic Brown and a bunch of other guys suddenly slugging the ball out of the yard on his day to throw would help Cole regain some confidence as well.

Frankly, in some other situation we could simply chalk it up to a bad stretch or even a tough season for Hamels.

The problem with that is if he was doing what was anticipated – that arguably being a contender for the Cy Young – the Phillies would be right in the thick of the playoff race right now, if not holding down a berth. Philadelphia is 7.5 games back of Atlanta for first place in the NL East, instead of the few back that might be with a few more wins from their No. 1. They’re only six out of a Wild Card spot, which was easily doable with more run support…

Or a few more performances where Hamels either went longer or was the shutdown ace his contract demands he be.

The frustrating part is Hamels will most likely come around barring injury because there’s too much talent. And again, where the Phillies are in the standings is far from all his fault – he’s deserved to win far more often than he has.

Just imagine though if he had been pitching like the Cole Hamels of the last two years this entire time instead. Now couple that thought with how Domonic Brown has suddenly ignited and is carrying the Phils’ offense, not to mention the fact that the Braves and Nationals have left the division wide open for the taking.

The Phillies should be right there. Forget Ryan Howard’s waning power, Chase Utley’s injury, Carlos Ruiz’s absences, the slow starts of Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins, and the all-too-often-missing right-hand bats of Michael and Delmon Young. To a certain extent, all of that had been accounted for.

Hamels was supposed to help combat those flaws. Without his quick turnaround, they will prove as fatal as predicted.

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).