Cole Hamels finds a new gear with the Cubs as he gives the rotation a needed boost

CHICAGO – When it comes to acquisitions of starting pitchers in 2018, it’s the one made at the trade deadline that easily bests the ones made in the offseason.

In an ideal world, that’s not how Theo Epstein or the Cubs wanted it to be. But for the moment, their move in late July is paying incredible dividends as the playoff race continues into August.

Cole Hamels has reinvigorated his own season after he came over from the Rangers and in the process has been the team’s most consistent pitcher over the last month. In his four starts, Hamels has posted a 3-0 record with a 0.72 ERA.

It’s a far cry from his struggles with the Rangers, where he was 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA. The month of July could be described as atrocious for the pitcher, as he was 1-3 with an 11.72 ERA for a Texas team nowhere near the postseason.

Perhaps the spirit of another run for the World Series run has brought out some of the 2016 Hamels, who was 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA that season. He was 11-6 in 2017 but his ERA creeped over four before the very inconsistent first half of this season.

But since coming to Chicago, it’s been a different Hamels.

It started in Pittsburgh on August 1st in a strikeout-heavy effort against the Pirates. He shook off a first inning run to pitch four clean frames after that, striking out nine compared to just two walks in a 9-2 victory. The strikeouts were down to two in his next effort against the Royals on August sixth but he went an extra innings in allowing just one run in a 3-1 Cubs’ victory.

Perhaps his best game came on one of the most memorable nights of the season – the Sunday night game against the Nationals on August 12th. While David Bote’s Grand Slam to the end the game lives in Cubs’ lore, the performance by Hamels over seven innings was outstanding as he allowed just one run and one hit. He struck out nine while walking just one and matched Max Scherzer’s effort in one of the better pitcher’s duels of the 2018 season.

Ground balls were the key for Hamels in his second start against the Pirates last Friday, as he got Pittsburgh to hit 14 of them including five double plays in a 1-0 victory.

These contributions are key to a Cubs’ rotation that’s been full of injury and struggle at times in 2018. Mike Montgomery, who picked up the slack from Darvish’s absence and Chatwood’s inconsistency, is currently on the 10-day disabled list. Jon Lester is rounding back into form with two solid stars after he had a 10.32 ERA in his first five starts of the second half.

Meanwhile Jose Quintana (2-3, 5.57 ERA in second half) and Kyle Hendricks (3-2, 4.35 ERA in second half) have shown flashes but seek consistency down the stretch.

That leaves Hamels as the most consistent man in the rotation at the moment, taking the mound at Wrigley Field against the Reds Thursday as a player who has turned back the clock about two years.

The Cubs are certainly appreciative that he did.