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

Jun 5, 2013, 11:58 AM EDT

source:  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.