The one thing that baseball analysts pretty much unanimously agreed upon in October 2011 was that the Philadelphia Phillies were going to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels headed the Phillies’ pitching staff, and the Cardinals were barely a .500 team. The Phillies couldn’t lose.
Well, they did lose, and the Cardinals ended up winning the World Series in seven games over the Texas Rangers.
Hamels hasn’t pitched in the postseason since, though his new team, the Rangers, have a realistic shot of making the playoffs this season. Hamels, added at the July 31 trade deadline, is suppose to help get them there.
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Getting back to the postseason is everything. That’s what I prepare for in the off-season. It’s to build up and play to the best ability so that you can play to November.
Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels
He was back at Safeco Field on Tuesday night, pitching in a late game against the Seattle Mariners as the Rangers attempted to cut into their two-game deficit to Houston in the American League West while trying to grow a 1 1/2-game lead over Minnesota for the second wild card.
The September chase, where he has flourished before, is helping to drive him toward October.
“This has definitely has been a good change,” Hamels said Saturday after his between-starts bullpen session. “Getting back to the postseason is everything. That’s what I prepare for in the off-season. It’s to build up and play to the best ability so that you can play to November.
“To get back in that situation where it’s attainable, the excitement level has been out of this world, especially with these guys. These guys have been so fun to be a part of. They’ve done a lot of the work earlier when I wasn’t here, so to be able to come in and for them to welcome me and then to be able to participate and be able to help them out, that’s what September really is.”
The Rangers entered Tuesday having won the past four games Hamels started since he lost Aug. 7 to the Mariners. He was 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings over those four starts.
3.09Career postseason ERA for Rangers lefty Cole Hamels, who was the MVP of the 2008 World Series
The Rangers had scored four runs in each of his past five starts, so he has been working with little margin for error. But he has also been working with a heightened focus that comes with pitching in meaningful games.
Hamels’ Phillies teams didn’t have many meaningful September games the past few seasons. Hamels had individual goals he wanted to achieve, but staying focused could be tricky with the team playing out the string.
“When you’re a starter you have four days in between,” he said. “To still stay mentally sharp, that’s the tough spot. To be able to still maintain your workouts, your thought process. That’s the tough time because it does affect the fifth day.”
For his career, September has been one of Hamels’ best months. He entered 21-13 with a 2.99 ERA and a .233 opponents average. The wins, ERA and average all rate second in his career.
The Rangers’ rotation had a 4.21 ERA in the first six starts of the month, 3.16 if Lewis’ Sunday outing is taken out of the equation. Even with Lewis’ past three bumpy starts, the rotation has a 3.35 ERA in the past 22 games.
“It’s pretty impressive,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I like our rotation as much as anybody’s. I think we’ve got a nice mix with what we have. We have some power on the mound. We have some swing-and-miss pitchers, and we’ve got some ground ball guys. We’ve got some guys that can go out with some tenacity that are capable of keeping up in ballgames.”
And capable of a fun ride to the finish line.
“Everybody enjoys the end of the race more than the beginning of the race,” Hamels said. “In September you get to really see who’s going home and who’s going to continue. You get to see who’s going to reach historical type of statistics. It’s the fun part, what everybody is looking for and wants to watch.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760