Were we that terrible, or was Cole Hamels that good? This question rolled around my head this morning as I prepared to do the writeup about our loss to the Phillies. I noted in my series preview that Cole can (when he's right) be extremely dominanting. We've also witnessed our lineup go into a complete shell at times when the game is on the line. It's my job to get deep into the nitty gritty of the game and assess the root cause of our failure. Can it be brushed off by saying a great pitcher had a great game? Let's take a look.
The bottom line was the Braves only collected 5 hits, no walks, and never got a single player to second base. Mike Minor gave up 3 runs in the first, and then shut the door for 7 innings, even though he got the loss. More on that later. Hamels went the full 9 for a complete game shutout, collected 6 Ks, and did it on 111 pitches, 78 which were strikes. So right off the bat you have an ace pitcher throwing strikes at a 70% rate during the game. In his last game against Atlanta he only had 49% strikes. That's a key improvement as to why he didn't walk anybody in this game. Also, 60-65% strikes is a really good mark for a starter in a game. 70%+ is ridiculous. In fact, in Matt Cain's perfect game this season, he had a 69% rate for strikes. The interesting thing about Hamels was that he only went strike one on 15/29 batters.
The Braves tried to work counts as per our usual hitting method against good starters. 18 of our 29 batters at least took the counts to strike 2 before putting action on the ball. It just didn't matter. Hamels wasn't going to be beat yesterday. We did what we could, and he was simply better than our lineup that day. This falls under the "tip your hat" and forget it category. In a 162 game season, you are going to run into pitchers you can't rattle. When you dig deeper into the numbers, you can see this game was more about Cole Hamels playing really well, and less about our lineup settling for bad pitches.
Mike Minor showed us a lot about his mental fortitude, which I had questioned early in the season. Giving up a 3 run first inning would have sent the old Minor reeling for 7-8 runs by game end. Instead, the new Mike went back out there and didn't give up another run for 7 innings, preserving some of our bullpen for tonight's matchup. There's a lot to be said for a pitcher that can go deeper in the game like that even when there is little to no hope of a win. It's something Tommy Hanson CAN'T do on a consistent basis. That will become an important distinction late in the season, have no doubt. Minor kept things close enough for the Braves to strike, and the only bullpen guys we had to burn were Avilan and Gearrin. That means we have Durbin, Venters, and O'Flaherty ready to go tonight if we need them. Kimbrel is always good to go late in the season.
Tonight Hudson takes the mound for the rubber game. This one will be for the series. This one is a must-win for the team who dropped yet another game in the race to the freaking Nats. At 4 games back in August, you damn well better hope we don't get to 5+, because there's no coming back from that unless the Nats collapse. Time for Huddy to saddle up and ride out guns blazing in Philly.