Small sample size and all that, but Cole Hamels is doing a damn good job of keeping the narrative relevant that he could be this year's Justin Verlander.
Hamels was dealt to the Cubs ahead of the trade deadline last month whereas Verlander was a waiver deal to the Houston Astros last August. But they share a lot in common as veteran starting pitchers with impressive resumes that had appeared to be toward the tailend of their career before a rejuvenation thanks to a late-season trade.
Verlander helped the Astros win the World Series last fall and we don't yet know if Hamels will be able to accomplish the same feat in Chicago.
Through three starts, the 34-year-old southpaw has been far better than anybody's wildest dreams.
After carving through the Nationals' powerhouse lineup Sunday night locked in a pitcher's duel with the likely 2018 NL Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer), Hamels now has a 1.00 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in a Cubs uniform with 20 strikeouts against only 4 walks in 18 innings.
He also has yet to allow an extra-base hit in a Cubs uniform. The only reason he's not 3-0 in those three starts is because the Cubs were unable to provide any support Sunday against Scherzer and the Washington bullpen until David Bote's heroics in the bottom of the ninth.
"It's saying something when you win ballgames here," Hamels said. "I mean, this place is electric. This clubhouse has been outstanding and the energy that we have after the games, that was something special today.
"That was a real joy to be a part of obviously the way that it ended, you just have to get credit to all these guys. They fight to the very end. To be able to do this against a tremendous team over there, it just makes it that much sweeter tonight."
Hamels had more 1-2-3 innings Sunday night (6) than Jon Lester has the entire second half (3).
And the Cubs got him for a 23-year-old pitcher in A-ball and Eddie Butler while also getting the Rangers to kick in enough money to keep Theo Epstein's squad under the luxury tax in 2018.
To Joe Maddon, this still looks like the same guy that shut his team down in the 2008 World Series and no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field in July 2015.
"Of course he's probably been reborn a little bit coming to us right now," Maddon said. "But stuff is high-end, man. If there's any kind of drop-off, it's minimal if at all. Because I'm not seeing it from the side."
Hamels is doing all this with an elite changeup which is generating a swing-and-miss nearly half the time he throws it:
Through 5 innings, Cole Hamels has gotten the Nats to whiff on 5 of their 7 swings vs. his changeup.— David Adler (@_dadler) August 13, 2018
That brings his changeup whiff rate to 47.7% on the season (235 swings, 112 misses) -- now the highest rate among starters, leapfrogging Kenta Maeda.
With a wicked changeup like that, you'd think Hamels would go to it all the time. He did in Pittsburgh and used it a bunch against the Nationals Sunday night, but it was not a major part of his game Monday night in Kansas City.
Hamels wasn't feeling his changeup against the Royals and instead relied on his curveball.
Even when his best pitch isn't working, Hamels' intellect and wide array of pitches gives him plenty of weapons to shut down the other team and now he's rejuvenated with a move back into a postseason race.
"I think anytime you get placed into a pennant race, you start to discover a little bit more that's in the tank that you might not necessarily have been able to go down and really gather," Hamels said. "But at the same time, I really was focusing a lot, even when I was down there [in Texas] — trying to correct my mechanics.
"That was something that was off and I knew it was off and it was just a matter of trying to identify it. And then putting in the work to get the muscle memory so I could actually go out there and perform at the level I know I'm capable of doing. It's now being able to see that and getting the results, that's how you build momentum, that's how you get back to what I know I'm capable of doing and that's going out there and helping the team win ballgames."
It was a decade ago, but Hamels was named the NLCS and World Series MVP with the Phillies in 2008 as he took down Maddon's Rays in the Fall Classic.
All this from a guy who was in the midst of the worst season of his career in Texas (5-9, 4.72 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) before the trade.
The Cubs bet on that big-game experience and veteran savviness and it's paid off in a big way so far.
"Love the situations," Hamels said. "This is why I play the game. I do love the game of baseball with all my heart. To be in the spotlight in big games against big-time pitchers, that's what I live for. That's what I'm here to go out and try to do.
"That's something that has always been what I've enjoyed most about pitching is being on the biggest stage possible."