Cubs

Cole Hamels details one reason it all went wrong for Cubs in 2019

Cole Hamels details one reason it all went wrong for Cubs in 2019

If you're looking for a seminal moment in the 2019 Cubs season, look no further than Cole Hamels walking off the mound after the first inning in Cincinnati on June 28.

Hamels left with an oblique injury and wound up missing more than a month. But in reality, he was never the same again.

From the time he returned on Aug. 3 through the end of the season, Hamels went 1-4 with a 5.79 ERA and 1.83 WHIP and just two quality starts. Prior to the oblique injury, the veteran had been arguably the Cubs' most consistent starter, going 6-3 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 10 quality starts. 

In fact, he was one of the hottest pitchers on the planet going into that outing in Cincinnati with a 1.00 ERA in his first five June starts.

On the morning of June 28, the Cubs woke up in first place with a 44-38 record, a game up on the Milwaukee Brewers and three up on the St. Louis Cardinals. But from that point forward, the Cubs went only 40-40 while the Cards turned in a sparkling 51-31 record and the Brewers went 46-34. 

In hindsight, there are plenty of reasons to point to for the Cubs' collapse, but the starting rotation was a major factor and Hamels' absence — and subsequent ineffectiveness — was absolutely a part of that downfall. 

The Cubs had a 3.94 rotation ERA before Hamels' injury, the best mark of the three NL Central contenders. Post-Hamels injury, the Cubs dropped to a 4.43 rotation ERA, easily the worst total of the three squads. 

Hamels is gone now, a free agent whom the Cubs did not even extend a qualifying offer to this winter. The chances of him returning to the North Side of Chicago are slim, as the Cubs want to go younger with their rotation. But he did speak on the White Sox Talk Podcast this week about his chances of landing on the South Side.

In discussing his future as a big-league pitcher with NBC Sports Chicago's Chuck Garfien, Hamels also spent some time looking back at his 2019 season with the Cubs — namely how he felt like he rushed back from his oblique injury. 

Hamels said he felt fantastic to start the year, as the results showed. He was confident and locked in with his mechanics and had eliminated the slider he was trying to incorporate into his repertoire, going with more of a four-pitch approach (4-seam fastball, changeup, cutter, curveball).

He also admitted he tore his oblique when he slipped on his front leg trying to deliver a pitch in Cincinnati and detailed how the injury affected him for the rest of the season:

"Then trying to come back, I knew that I needed to be back there because I was doing so well and so after healing up and not throwing a ball for almost 18 days, I rushed back into my throwing program and I was just never able to get my shoulder the right strength," Hamels told Garfien. "I felt like, you know what, it will slowly go, it will be more like a spring training. But when you're in games that count, you're gonna grind away and put a little bit more effort on it when you probably can't sustain it and my shoulder was just getting more tired and more tired. 

"My front side was now leaking because I was trying to generate the velocity, so I wasn't really throwing off my front side as much and I think then the oblique was always in the back of my mind because I didn't want to reaggravate it, because if I did, I was gonna be out for the season. There's just a lot that was really not going well and then I kinda got to that part in the end of September where I really couldn't lift and throw the ball — my shoulder was just so fatigued. 

"I was able to take a week off and everything felt amazing. I was able to pitch the last game, but unfortunately, we were already out of it. Sometimes, I think people look at it like, 'oh, that was bad.' But it just was like, 'no, I finally now feel good. Unfortunately, the season's over.' So that was just a tough situation because I never caught up and I thought I could. Maybe that's what happens as you get older, but I know if I probably would've put in the right amount of time in it building up, I would've been more effective. 

"But unfortunately I think it's just the nature of who we are, we just want to be out there and compete as fast as we possibly can and I rushed back. It didn't benefit anybody. That's kind of the tough part. I loved being able to pitch for my teammates and the Cubs and that city and I feel like I really let them down in that situation. I felt like if I could've been at my best, we probably would've made the postseason. So that's something that doesn't sit well with me and that's why in the offseason, I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen. I can prove myself again. If it's not for the Cubs, it's gonna be for somebody else for their benefit."

As he said, Hamels threw the second-to-last game of the season for the Cubs in St. Louis, striking out 8 in 4 shutout innings in an 8-6 victory. It was his best outing in nearly two months and came on 11 days rest after the Cubs skipped his turn in the rotation.

"I pretty much got like a 10-day recovery, which jumpstarted my body again and my shoulder," Hamels said. "And I watched a lot of video, realized I wasn't staying strong on my front side, so that's what I did in my bullpen before the game and everything was finally clicking. But then all of the sudden, the season ends. And you're like, 'aw, man, I wish I had a few more starts here because then I could really show that I'm A-OK.'"

Of course, Hamels didn't have the luxury of any more starts and the Cubs had already run out of time and been eliminated from playoff contention by his final outing. Maybe things would've been different for the 2019 Cubs if they had figured out sooner that shutting down Hamels for a few days between starts would give him all the juice he needed to regain his pre-injury form. 

As it stands, Hamels is looking for work and the Cubs are looking for ways to shake up their roster after a disappointing 84-win campaign.

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.