When the Texas Rangers take the field on Wednesday afternoon at the Rogers Centre in the deciding Game 5 of their American League Division Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, it will be Cole Hamels and not Yovani Gallardo taking the hill. Considering Gallardo's mastery of the Jays this season, turning to Hamels in Game 5 comes as a bit of a surprise from manager Jeff Banister, but does the 31-year-old Hamels actually give the team a better chance to advance to the American League Championship Series?
Going to Gallardo seems like the obvious play. The 29-year-old Mexican went five innings in the Game 1 win allowing two runs on four hits. Those runs were the first surrendered by Gallardo against the Jays this season in three starts. In two regular season starts against the Jays, Gallardo threw 13.2 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just six hits and holding the Jays to an average of just .138.
Despite Gallardo's recent mastery against the Jays, Banister is leery of the former Milwaukee Brewer's inability to endure. Gallardo's eight-and-a-third innings in a June 27 start in Toronto was his longest start of the season by over an inning. He failed to reach the seventh inning in all 17 starts following that game and was done before the end of the sixth in 14 of them. If Banister is of the opinion that Gallardo's run of form against the Jays is bound to dry up sooner than later, it's understandable and going with him in an elimination game might be tempting fate.
Hamels was solid if unspectacular in his Game 2 start against the Jays. The 31-year-old native of San Diego went seven innings, allowing four runs on six hits and striking out six in the Rangers' 14-inning with. Hamels received a no-decision.
Wednesday's game will mark the 15th playoff game start for Hamels in his career. The Most Valuable Player of the 2008 World Series where he helped lead the Philadelphia Phillies to their first title in 28 seasons, Hamels has started four potential series-clinching games in his career.
COLE HAMELS IN POTENTIAL SERIES CLINCHERS
|2008||NLCS, Game 5||@ LAD||W, 5-1||7||5||1||1||3||5||1|
|2008||WS, Game 5||TB||W, 4-3||6||5||2||2||1||3||0|
|2009||NLCS, Game 5||LAD||W, 10-4||4.1||5||3||3||1||3||3|
|2010||NLDS, Game 3||@ CIN||W, 2-0||9||5||0||0||0||9||0|
Hamels is 2-0 in those games with a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio and a 0.950 WHIP. With an ability to win a series-clinching game proven, Banister is confident in his choice, but Wednesday will be something new for Hamels - he's never appeared in a potential elimination game.
Still, the Rangers are confident with Hamels on the hill.
"I think he loves being in this situation," shortstop Elvis Andrus told The Dallas Morning News on Monday. "Good players love being there. He's the best guy we've got with the most experience. If he gets comfortable, it's going to be game over."
Is it that simple, though? Consider Hamels's splits when it comes to home games and away games this season.
COLE HAMELS IN 2015 (COMBINED PHILLIES/RANGERS)
|HOME vs. LEFT||21.2||88||15||6||6||1||9||21||.199||.299||.289|
|HOME vs. RIGHT||87.0||354||71||35||34||13||21||93||.217||.276||.382|
|AWAY vs. LEFT||24.1||106||26||4||4||1||9||22||.268||.330||.361|
|AWAY vs. RIGHT||79.1||332||78||43||42||7||23||79||.255||.315||.377|
As evidenced by the numbers, Hamels has been incredibly effective this season, but is more vulnerable on the road, especially against left-handed hitters.
Against lefties, the Blue Jays hit .278 with an OBP of .354, .463 SLG and an OPS of .818.
On five days' rest, Gallardo should be available to come out of the bullpen in Game 5 should Banister so choose, but it will be the first-year manager's decision to go with Hamels that will likely be the one that determines whether or not the Rangers will advance to the ALCS.