ST. LOUIS — The Cubs' front office pulled off their big move of the season in the wake of the team's walk-off win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, acquiring left-handed starter Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers. For a team that has struggled with starting pitching throughout the 2018 season, the 34-year-old could provide a big boost in the stretch run.
But Hamels is not the only pitcher the Cubs recently added to the roster in a deal with the Rangers. Jesse Chavez, a reliever who has pitched five shutout innings out of the bullpen for the Cubs, has a unique ability to speak on Hamels as a pitcher and a clubhouse presence.
“What we're getting is a guy obviously with postseason experience and a World Series MVP,” said Chavez. “And this team is hungry for another one, so you put those two things together and it's a good recipe.”
Hamels was having a strong season up until his last five starts. Over that period, he has a 10.23 ERA with 37 hits allowed in 22 innings. In his 15 starts prior, however, Hamels had a 3.41 ERA with 78 hits allowed and 92 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings.
“He's human, we're all human,” he said. “Some games happen the way we don't want them to, and from my eyes sitting and watching him in the first half, I think it was just like one pitch at the wrong stadium in all honesty. We've all been there. I've been there a lot. You know, it's just things like that, it's Cole. He's professional, he's going to come in here and hit stride, mesh in real well with this group.”
Many are looking to Hamels' peripheral stats as hope that he'll be able to provide a spark down the stretch for the Cubs. Even during his recent unfortunate stretch, his fastball velocity is as strong as it has been all season – averaging between 92-93 mph.
In his home ballpark in Arlington, Texas, Hamels was 1-7 this season with a 6.41 ERA in 59 innings. On the road, however, he is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 55 1/3 innings. In six career starts at Wrigley Field, Hamels has a 1.76 ERA in 41 innings – which includes the no-hitter he tossed as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015.
“Home splits and road splits are different, but I think that's kind of for everybody,” said Chavez. “Very rarely do you see similar splits at home and on the road. Those are the guys that are up at the top, and I'm pretty sure that was him early on. Like I said, it's just that year. I can't really put a finger on it, you'll just have to ask Cole.”
The home and road splits may not lead to the conclusion that simply getting out of Texas is a panacea for Hamels, but Chavez does concede that it can be hard to pitch in that ballpark as the season goes along.
“The heat, the humidity, it takes its toll,” he said. “Especially during long at-bats. That's what I experienced early on in the first half. You're going to have long at-bats and one's going to back up or hang. You don't want it to, it's just the nature of the game. Things even out.”
After coming into the season with what appeared on paper to be one of the best rotations in baseball, the Cubs have really struggled getting quality production from their starters. As a unit, they have a 4.04 ERA (13th in baseball) and 259 walks in 102 games (second-worst in baseball).
Tyler Chatwood, who the Cubs signed to a three-year, $38 million contract last December, has been the biggest culprit. The 28-year-old has a 4.98 ERA in 94 innings with 85 walks – worst among all starters in Major League Baseball. Chatwood has a 7.71 ERA in 25 2/3 innings with 22 walks over his last five starts, and opposing batters have posted a .869 OPS against him.
The Cubs have yet to announce how they intend to line up their rotation going forward, however they do intend to use a five-man rotation for the time being.