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Welcome to Hollywood: Cole Hamels Finally Becoming an Ace for the Phillies

I’ve got some bad news for you, Cole Hamels.

You might be known as Hollywood to your teammates, you might be married to a Survivor star that got naked for some chocolate (not that I watched, of course), and you may have even spent the better part of 2009 posing as a Comcast spokesperson.

But to me? You’re boring.

In years past you were always good for five or six solid innings sprinkled with a ton of foul balls, some tough calls that made you angry at the umpire, followed by a few hanging change-ups that ended up becoming souvenirs.

Sure, you would win 10 to 15 games every year too, but either way it was something good.

For most of this season, however, you have developed this nasty habit of doing nothing more than taking the mound every five days with a Dirty Harry demeanor, always keeping your composure, and collecting quality outings like they were Silly Bandz.

Hamels was once again “boring” last night, throwing eight sparkling innings and giving up just one run, all the while looking every bit like the ace Phillies fans always hoped he would become. 

The “Phightins” now have a four-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, and despite being more banged up than Lindsey Lohan for most of the season, they are just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in all of baseball.



The biggest reason the Phillies are where they are? That would be Cole Hamels.


Not to diminish anything that Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, or any of the Phillies’ big contributors has done this season, but it’s the lift they got from Hamels that has them on pace to finish with their best record since 1993.

A few stats to consider…

During the second half, Hamels has the National League’s second lowest ERA. 

Oh, and he is third in the NL in strikeouts, eighth in innings, and ninth in WHIP for the season.

Pretty solid, right? If your ace is putting up those numbers, your team will more than likely be playing meaningful games in September. If it’s your No. 2 doing that (or maybe even No. 3 depending on how you feel about Roy Oswalt), you have a team that’s going to have Philly fans watching deep into October.

With all those numbers, Hamels has been plagued by a lack of run support, with his record hovering at a pedestrian 12-10. In some ways, that is his most impressive stat.

Cole seems to have finally grasped what it means to be a major league pitcher, putting his team on his back every fifth day, supporting everyone else the other days. Hollywood seems to have finally realized that even the star needs a supporting cast, and he has mastered both roles.



During his Cy Young-worthy performance on Monday night, one thing stuck out to me, and it wasn’t the eight innings, six strikeouts, or just the one walk.


What stood out was the way Hamels exited the game. He handed the ball to Charlie Manuel, nodded to the crowd, and stopped by home plate to have a word with home plate umpire Mark Carlson.

“Thank you” was all that Hamels said, and with a smile he walked into the dugout.

It’s certainly not the first time a pitcher has acknowledged the home plate umpire, especially after he just pitched a gem in maybe the biggest non-playoff game of his career. But there is more to it than that.

Last season Carlson was behind the plate for a late June Hamels start. After getting rocked for four runs in 4.2 innings, Hamels threw a hissy fit on his way to the dugout and was tossed from the game by Carlson.

It was impossible to miss the difference last night.

Cole Hamels, the one-time wunderkind, the 2008 World Series MVP, the 2009 World Series quitter, has grown up.

As the season winds down, expect to see plenty more of the new “boring” Cole Hamels putting up numbers similar to last night– and if you are a Phillies fan, that’s a very good thing.

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Manuel Powered: The Phillies New Lineup Is Just Crazy Enough to Work

Legend has it that Billy Martin, the oft-hired and fired coach of the New York Yankees, would occasionally arrange batting orders by picking names out of a hat in an effort to break out of hitting slumps.

Such a radical tactic would never be tolerated by today’s big-money players, (imagine A-Rod strolling into the clubhouse only to find out he is hitting out of the nine-hole), in fact most of today’s managers will stubbornly stand pat and send out the same lineup day after day as their season goes down the drain.

Luckily for the Phillies, Charlie Manuel isn’t like most managers. Never known as someone to stick to conventions, Manuel rolled the dice with a new lineup for the night-cap of Monday’s doubleheader, and so far its looking like a move that could pay big dividends for Philadelphia.

Since his debut during the 2001 season, when Jimmy Rollins has been in the lineup, he has hit lead-off. He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, he runs well and steals a ton of bases—everything you want from the top of your order. Except, there is one little problem: He doesn’t know how to get on base.

For the season, Rollins is getting on base at only a .328 clip, and has seen his average dip into the low .240s. As important as J-Roll is to the Phillies’ World Series aspirations, its almost impossible to win in October with a lead-off hitter that reaches base less than a third of the time.

So Chaz took a chance and moved Rollins to the fifth spot, inserting Shane Victorino into the lead-off slot.

In the two games since, the Phillies have scored 15 runs. In those two games, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is 5-for-10 with three runs and three steals hitting lead-off. Rollins has been just as solid hitting fifth, going 3-for-7 with two runs scored and two driven in.

Two games is hardly an adequate sample size, but the switch could have a strong psychological impact on both players if the move becomes permanent. 

For Rollins, he can finally become the player he always wanted to be. He no longer has to worry about working counts, bleeding walks, and hitting the ball on the ground (things he was never very good at anyway). Instead, he can focus on being a playmaker—driving in runs, taking extra bases, swiping bags—anything that causes havoc on the diamond.

Victorino, on the other hand, finally gets to feel like part of the order. Stuck in the seven-hole most of the season, Shane was slowly morphing into a sourpuss, a far cry from his free-wheeling style that had made him a fan favorite in Philly.

Granted, with an OBP similar to J-Roll’s, Victorino is far from the ideal lead-off hitter. However, in the two games since moving to lead-off, his approach at the plate has been noticeably different, working the count and hitting line-drives as opposed to constantly swinging for the fences like he did from the bottom of the order.

As far as I’m concerned, Manuel can do whatever he wants with the lineup as long as Polanco, Utley, and Howard stay in the 2-3-4 spots. Utley and Howard are too talented to be put anywhere else, and Polanco was put on the earth to bat second for a National League team.

Other than that, the rest of the starters seem fairly interchangeable, and it’s certainly possible Charlie has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

But for now, Rollins seems happy, Victorino seems happy, the team is scoring runs again as they have taken back control of the National League East.

Now let’s just hope this means we won’t see names being picked out of a hat any time soon.

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Chin Up, Stephen Strasburg: If These Players Came Back, So Can You

When news broke last week that Nationals phenom Steven Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery and likely won’t throw a pitch in the Major Leagues until 2012, the mood around D.C. was predictably apocalyptic.

For a team that hasn’t finished better than .500 since their 2005 move to Washington, losing their crown jewel in Strasburg seemed like an unusually cruel blow to Nats fans. All hope is not lost however.

As a fan of all things Philadelphia, I know all about always expecting the worst from your favorite teams, but after more than 30 years of experimentation, Tommy John Surgery boasts a success rate of more than 80%, and at just 22 years of age, Strasburg’s odds of recovery are even better. 

In fact, as a present to Nats fans everywhere, here are ten players that not only returned from Tommy John surgery, but thrived because of it.

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Welcome Back J-Roll: Phillies’ Postseason Hopes Hinge on Jimmy Rollins

After watching the Phillies’ embarrassing Bad News Bears impersonation earlier this week—resulting in a four-game sweep at the hands of the 58-70 Houston Astros—fans and analysts alike were quick to dispense advice on how to save the season going forward.

It turns out the best plan of attack moving forward might be to look at recent history, specifically 2007.

Ah yes, 2007. Forever known as the season the Phillies finally broke down the postseason barrier, thanks in large part to their cocky shortstop and his ability to put the team on his back for long stretches of time.

And last night, for the first time this season, Jimmy Rollins did it again.

With three hits, several sparkling throws from short, and perhaps the greatest slide I have ever seen to score the winning run in the Phillies’ 3-2, 12-inning win, Rollins did a reasonable job reenacting his 2007 MVP season.

More importantly, however, Rollins had his 2007 swagger back, something the team has been sorely missing of late.

Once the loosest clubhouse in the league, the team is suddenly tighter than Donovan McNabb in the Super Bowl during close games, and without any real explanation. I’m not sure that either Jayson Werth or Shane Victorino have smiled in about a month, but they both look like Richard Simmons compared to Ryan Howard, who seems more interested in ending his at-bats quickly than getting on base.

This is where Rollins and his swagger comes into play. Looking like someone wired on Red Bull, J-Roll spent 12 innings pacing the dugout, yelling encouragement from the top step, talking strategy with Charlie, and trying everything short of a cattle prod to pull Howard out of his funk.

One game of the rah-rah routine doesn’t necessarily mean much, but when it happens every night, as it did in 2007, the rest of the team can’t help but follow along. The good news is Rollins knows this. Last night was the most animated I’ve seen him all season, and I expect more of the same this afternoon.

With his batting average hovering in the .250 range, Rollins is no longer the MVP caliber player he was in 2007. Much to his credit though, the swagger remains. And at this point in the season—one month to play, two games back in the division, and one game up in the Wild Card—that swagger could be the key in getting the Phillies back to the postseason.

So welcome back J-Roll, I hope you decide to stay a while.

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Brett Myers in the Middle of a Phillies Postseason Push Yet Again

For a team to do what the Phillies have done in the last three seasons, it goes without saying that the list of players to come up big along the way is going to be, as Goose would say, long, but distinguished.

Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins might headline the list, but it’s safe to say there are plenty of other role-players (Victorino, Ruiz), relievers, (Madson, Lidge), and even bench players (Matt Stairs), who won’t be paying for a drink in Philadelphia anytime soon.

And despite being in the middle of the drama as much, if not more than any other Phillie over the last three seasons, the man who takes the mound at Citizens Bank Park tonight seems on his way to becoming a mere footnote in Phillies history, and undeservedly so.

And no, I’m not talking about Joe Blanton, the man with the 5.46 era. I’m talking about the Astros’ new ace, Brett Myers.

Ask the average fan about Brett Myers and they will most likely bring up either his 2006 arrest for assault, or his now hilarious verbal beatdown of Inquirer writer Sam Carchidi after a loss in 2007. What people don’t remember is that he won more than 70 games for the Phillies, started twice on Opening Day, and was a clubhouse leader for the better part of a decade.

And then there’s this: The Phillies would have almost certainly missed the playoffs in ’07, and possibly in ’08, if Myers doesn’t put the team on his back. Don’t believe me? Check out these beauties…

2007: With the bullpen decimated by injuries, Myers gives up his spot in the starting rotation to take over the closer role, something he’s never done before by the way, and records 21 saves with an ERA under three, as the Phillies win the division on the final day of the year. 

2008: After a slow start that includes a demotion to Triple-A in July, Myers comes back to the majors with the team trailing in both the Division and Wild Card races to finish the second half with a 7-2 record and a 1.80 ERA. In the playoffs Myers wins two games, and just for good measure drives in three runs during Game 1 of the NLCS.

Not too shabby for a guy whose biggest claim to fame is calling Carchidi a “retard”, is it?

It’s impossible to say how the last three seasons play out without Myers in the fold. Maybe the Mets were destined to collapse in ’07, and maybe the Phillies still would have gotten hot at the right time in 2008.

What I do know is that the final out of the 2008 World Series is far and away my favorite memory as a sports fan. If I had to pick a second, it’s probably Brett Myers striking out Wily Mo Pena to clinch the division in 2007.

Maybe those two moments aren’t related, but something tells me they are. And next time I see Brett Myers, you better believe the drinks will be on me.

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