Chicago Cubs: Is Cole Hamels the weak link in the rotation?

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

There is no question that Cole Hamels was pitching like the ace of the rotation fro the Chicago Cubs during the first half of play.

After the Chicago Cubs had rewarded Cole Hamels‘ brilliant second-half stretch in 2018 by picking up his $20 million option for the 2019 season, Hamels posted a 6-3 mark with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts before the All-Star break.

The tall left-hander was running an 8.8 K/9, and opponents had just a .659 OPS against Hamels. Despite also boating a 3.2 BB/9 rate during that span, Hamels was finding ways to work out of jams, leaving close to 80 percent of base runners stranded.

Hamels was placed on the Injured List at the end of June with a left oblique strain. He missed all of July, and since he has returned, things have not quite been the same.

Rocky recovery

Initially, it appeared that Hamels was fully healthy when he came off IL. He tossed five scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on August 3, giving up four hits and striking out six. In his next two starts, however, Hamels lacked vitality.

The 35-year-old was touched up for five runs (four earned) and eight hits in just three innings against the Cincinnati Reds on August 8, throwing 77 pitches in the process. Things got even worse when Hamels made his return to Philadelphia.

Pitching in Citizens Bank Park for the first time since he was a member of the Phillies in 2015, Hamels was walloped by his former club, giving up nine hits and eight earned runs in just two innings of work.

After that woeful performance, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said that Hamels was still “working through the kinks” of the oblique injury that had sidelined him for over a month:

Indeed, Hamels did look much better against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. He scattered five hits and three runs across six innings of work.

However, Hamels also gave up a pair of homers to Kevin Pillar and Austin Slater in which he missed his spot by multiple feet, serving up meatball heaters that ended up in the bleachers and letting the Giants back into the game.

Cubs want the old Hamels back

Chicago’s starting rotation is finally starting to get some momentum. Even though Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have had a couple of tough outings lately, both have produced quality starts and have shown they can grind. Meanwhile, both Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are pitching as well as they ever have in a Cubs uniform.

The Cubs need Hamels to find the same level of comfort that he had on the mound during the first half of the season. Aside from his last two outings, Hamels was one of the more reliable starters on the road before the All-Star break, and this team needs to string together good performances away from Wrigley Field.

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When Hamels is commanding his fastball in the strike zone, he has a good deal more success setting up his changeup as an out pitch, and he can mix in that big breaker from time to time.

This Cubs rotation can be one of the best in baseball when everyone is healthy and in rhythm, but Hamels needs to be at his best for the home stretch, just as he was when the Cubs acquired him prior to last year’s trade deadline.