Hamels deserves All-Star Game start

Rangers' ace has been an elite force in the AL this season

June 29th, 2016

NEW YORK -- Cole Hamels grew up in North County San Diego and pitched at Rancho Bernardo High School. So it'd figure the Rangers' star left-hander would have a laser focus on this year's All-Star Game presented by MasterCard on July 12 at Petco Park.

"If there's a chance to make an All-Star Game in your hometown, that's always on your list," Hamels said Tuesday night after shutting out the Yankees on six hits and seven strikeouts for seven innings in a 7-1 win at Yankee Stadium.

"That's one of the top achievements you can obviously have. One of my goals this year was to put myself in the mix of being able to do that. I'm just trying to plug away and see if it will happen."

Oh, it will certainly happen on Tuesday when the squads are announced. Since he was acquired by the Rangers from the Phillies last July 31, Hamels has been one of the top pitchers in the American League. And Texas has been one of the league's top clubs.

Hamels' 9-1 record, 2.60 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 102 whiffs in 103 2/3 innings not only says All-Star, but one can make a case for him starting the game for the AL in the home park of his once-beloved Padres.

"That's not up to me. You're going to have to ask Ned," Hamels said, referring to Ned Yost, the Royals' manager who will be at the helm of the AL squad for the second consecutive year.

There would be a nice symmetry to Hamels starting a game that still determines which league has home-field advantage in the World Series. The 32-year-old Hamels is certainly a hometown favorite. He grew up watching the Padres at the Mission Valley facility, then called Jack Murphy Stadium, noting that his favorite was the 1998 team that won the National League pennant and was swept by the Yankees in that World Series.

By the time Petco opened in 2004, Hamels was already working his way up the Phils' farm system, and never saw the Padres play there as a fan. He was the 17th overall pick by Philadelphia in the 2002 Draft.

When Yost looks at some of the numbers, Hamels has dominated the Padres at Petco, posting a 5-1 record, a 2.01 ERA and 51 strikeouts in nine starts. With family and friends in attendance less than two weeks from now, Hamels would certainly be stoked.

Yet, Hamels is not the only AL pitcher having a banner year. Chris Sale is 13-2 with a 2.79 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 16 starts for the White Sox, and right now leads the Majors in victories. J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays and Chris Tillman of the Orioles each already have 10 wins.

What's a manager to do? Hamels or Sale?

"Look, I'm probably a little biased about our guy," Rangers second-year manager Jeff Banister said with a healthy chuckle. "I don't think you can go wrong with either one. We've seen the implications of the game. It really does matter to the teams that get into the World Series. It's important to always be mindful of that.

"Gestures are great. It would be awesome for him, his family and our whole organization. He's a headliner, a marquee player. That would be great. However, I believe that whoever starts the game is probably going to be a pretty good pitcher."

Hamels has been everything the Rangers could have wanted since general manager Jon Daniels traded six prospects to the Phillies for him. Texas was three games under .500 the day before the deal, but the club is 40 games over .500 ever since, and it also rallied to win last year's AL West title.

Some of that certainly can be credited to Hamels, who is 16-2 in his 28 starts in a Rangers uniform. Heading into Wednesday night's return match against New York, Texas has 51 wins and leads the division by a whopping 10 games over Houston.

Hamels has the background and experience. He was the MVP of the NL Championship Series and the World Series in 2008 when the Phils won it all for only the second time in franchise history.

The current run is one of the best of Hamels' 11-year career. And while he has energized the Rangers, the feeling is absolutely mutual.

"I can't believe the way things have been since coming on with this team," Hamels said. "It's the most positive team I've ever been around. When I came up, the guys were superstars in their primes. And they were positive because they were superstars. Here, they're all gamers. The younger guys are just learning how to play. The older guys just bust their butts. No guy is ever in a bad mood. And that's really rare to see."

Hamels had his moods as things began to unravel in Philly and the trade rumors kept swirling. That's all behind him now. So are his three previous experiences on the NL All-Star team.

Hamels is upbeat, he's pitching great, and now he is one of those veterans busting his butt. A start at home in the All-Star Game would be more than a nice gesture. It would be well-deserved.