The Phillies were originally supposed to face Cole Hamels this weekend, but the Cubs went to a six-man rotation briefly in late August to give their starters an extra day of rest and as a result, Hamels did not take the mound at Citizens Bank Park.
With the Cubs, Hamels has already made history. He's allowed one or no runs in all six of his starts with his new team. No pitcher acquired during a season had ever started his career with his new team with five such starts.
Hamels' tremendous success so far with the Cubs has a lot of Phillies fans saying "I told you so." The Phillies were in on a few starting pitchers as the trade deadline approached, but J.A. Happ went to the Yankees and Hamels was dealt to the Cubs.
You have to keep in mind, though, how putrid Hamels had looked before the trade deadline. As good as he's been with the Cubs is as bad as he was with Texas toward the end of his stint there. In his final five starts with the Rangers, Hamels allowed 29 runs in 22 innings and his opponents hit .370 with a 1.043 OPS.
At the time of the trade, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He had a higher ERA and WHIP than any member of the Phillies' rotation.
Now, the obvious counterargument is that the Rangers weren't a contender, that Hamels could be reinvigorated by a move back to the National League, back to a competitive environment.
But that's just a sentence people say, a sports cliche. There was little evidence to suggest a massive turnaround was coming for Hamels at age 34.
The other common counterargument is that Hamels was much better on the road than in Texas. Which is true, he had a 2.93 ERA on the road at the time of the trade. He also had allowed 11 runs in seven innings in his two most recent road starts — to the Orioles and Tigers, two of the worst teams and offenses in baseball.
As always, it's easier to judge a move or non-move in hindsight.
You have to keep in mind that the Cole Hamels of 2017 and half of 2018 was not the pitcher Phillies fans grew to love from 2006-15. Last season, he struck out just 6.4 batters per nine innings, by far the lowest rate of his career. He also, in 2016 and 2017, had the highest walk rates of his career.
There were plenty of signs that he was declining. From the Phillies' perspective, the Hamels of 2018 didn't represent much of an upgrade over Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez.
Of course, now the non-acquisition looks bad in light of Hamels' August. Remember, though, that Pivetta allowed two runs or fewer in four of his six starts in August. Velasquez has a 2.66 ERA over his last nine outings.
Whose spot would Hamels have been taking? The weakest link lately has been Zach Eflin, who has a 5.51 ERA his last nine starts. But again, on the day Hamels was traded, Eflin was 7-2 with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and a strikeout per inning.
If you're going to fault a team for not acquiring a struggling player who eventually turned it around, then you also have to credit a team for not acquiring a struggling player who has continued to struggle. Chris Archer, for example.
If anything, the bigger miss by the Phillies' front office was not acquiring Hamels' new teammate, Daniel Murphy, for practically nothing. The Phillies have added a bunch of veteran bats — Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista — but Murphy would have made a bigger impact than all of them except Ramos.