One of the greatest sportswriters of all time, Jane Austen, began one of her columns with the line (and I’m paraphrasing here…. I can’t be bothered to look up the exact quote) “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that while the Braves are in possession of an awesome lineup, they must be in want of some starting pitching.” Or as that excellent hockey commentator Leo Tolstoy put it: “All happy teams are alike, but each unhappy team is unhappy in its own way. And even the Dodgers aren’t that happy.”
To say that it is conventional wisdom that the Braves ultimate fate assumes that a pitcher nobody has seen all season is the key to success is a story we have seen before: Dallas Keuchel last year was one example, and the addition of the 37-year-old Don Sutton to the Milwaukee Brewers in September 1982 is an even closer analogy, right down to age. You don’t have to be Chip Caray (and God help you if you are) to note that an effective Cole Hamels is the equivalent of a trade for a similarly skilled ball-chucker at the deadline. The difference, of course, is that Sutton had been pitching all year for Houston when he was traded: Hamels has spent most of the year streaming Netflix, waiting to heal.
But he’s only going to get three starts between now and the playoffs, at most, so let the ink spill. In this greatly foreshortened season, it is ironically appropriate that everyone grants that the experience of a greatly foreshortened starting pitcher’s year will be critical.
Normally, of course, we could ease into the Cole Hamels Era gradually. Two weeks is not gradual. So just as every game is magnified in a 6 game season, every inning of work by Cole Hamels will be examined as if under an electron microscope. (Even if he gets all the way through the World Series, his salary per inning is going to be Verlander-worthy. In 2019, Verlander made about $120K per inning pitched. To fall short of that, Hamels would have to pitch 56 innings from here on out, not counting playoff bonuses. Highly unlikely.)
I love Baseball-Reference.com, but they are carrying out an exercise that is, to my mind, just stupid. They are simulating a 162 game season and reporting on it day by day. So as we enter this game, Hamels is, by their lights, 6-5 with a 4.83 ERA in 17 starts. I have no real taste for fantasy sports, but pure fantasy is a bridge too far.
First things first. As far as my wife is concerned, the only important thing about a pitcher is how easy he is on the eyes. (This has not yet been sabermetrically quantified for some reason, so we simply work on a spousal scale. Hamels is, to her eyes, the only pretender to the Swanson throne. I got her to sit through his whole appearance. This is rare indeed.)
Second his name is an anagram of both “Oh, Smell Ace” on the upside and “Calm… He Lose” on the downside.
In many ways, the light-hitting Orioles are an excellent first opponent, and Hamels rose to the occasion in the first two innings, yielding only one hit. The 3rd was a different story: a leadoff double, a walk, another double (assisted by a dubiously slow route from Ozuna) a groundout and a sac fly yielded three runs. In the 4th Marcel reached over the wall to bring back a hanging changeup which yielded, according to Chip, “soft contact.” (I would be far more critical if Chip were actually there.) At that point, Cole was done, as was my wife’s attendance – Tomlin apparently did not hold her prurient interest. Sorry, Josh. Anyway: 3 1/3 innings, a single, two doubles and a walk for a WHIP of 1.20. Acceptable.
But why is it acceptable? When Robbie Erlin yields 3 runs in 3 1/3rd innings, one can rightly ask for his DFA. But all statisticians are now Bayesians, by which I mean that prior expectations count for a lot in assessing scanty evidence. Nobody thinks Robbie Erlin can pitch, and Erlin starts justify that expectation. Everyone knows Cole Hamels can pitch, and a first appearance after a year off gets automatic allowances. I pass the torch to his next start to our put-upon cliff, for Monday.
I should probably stop the report there. Does anyone really care what happened after that? I hope not, because you’re probably going to be disappointed. The Braves played the first four innings as if the important thing was making sure Hamels didn’t tighten up on the bench. A minor two-out threat in the first was the only interruption to the circle route of dugout to on-deck circle to plate to dugout. Once Hamels had left, though, the Braves started to stir. Keegan Akin was Sandy Koufax until Hamels left, and closer to Sandy Baez once he left. In the fifth RAJ came to the plate representing the tying run, but he ended up representing the third out on a flyout to right.
The sixth brought a new pitcher for the O’s, Dillon Tate, and a very soft run: single by Freddie, passed ball, advance on a groundout and a balk. 3-1. In the bottom, however, Tomlin gave up that run and another besides. 5-1.
So we lost the game, but took a step toward winning the war. A baby step, to be sure, but a forward step. On to Citifield for a series in which we miss deGrom. But if you can’t hit Keegan Akin, it doesn’t much matter who you skip. JF to Bats: Wake The Hell Up.