Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, Jacob deGrom and David Price all started Thursday, an impressive list considering it wasn't even a full slate of games. Ubaldo Jimenez started as well. Our top five:
1. Hamels makes Cy Young case. I wrote the other day about the wide-open American League Cy Young, but maybe Hamels will be the guy to make a run at it. He struck out a season-high 12 batters to outduel Yordano Ventura, who threw a complete game and allowed just four hits -- except three of those were solo home runs, two by Mitch Moreland, and the Rangers beat the Royals 3-2. Putting faith in his ace, Rangers manager Jeff Banister let Hamels throw 123 pitches, tied for the second-most by a starter this season. (Chi Chi Gonzalez of the Rangers threw 124 on July 7, in a game where he pitched just 4⅔ innings.)
This might surprise you: Since 2010, Hamels is second in WAR among starting pitchers, behind only Clayton Kershaw.
Felix Hernandez: 32.9
Max Scherzer: 32.7
Justin Verlander: 31.4
Despite being one of the game's top pitchers for a long time -- remember, he helped the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008 -- he was never really factored in much in the Cy Young race. He has received votes four times:
2007: Sixth (2 points)
2011: Fifth (17 points)
2012: Eighth (1 point)
2014: Sixth (17 points)
He has never received a first-place and maybe never deserved one. By WAR, he was the second-best pitcher in the National League in 2014 and third-best in 2011, while ranking in the top 10 five other seasons, including 2016. There are Hall of Famers with fewer top-10 rankings than that. While Hamels has never been the best pitcher in the game, he has been consistently excellent for a decade now, and it seems that has gone unappreciated at times. For a couple years there in Philly, he pitched in the shadow of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, which didn't help when he was the team's third-best starter. But he's headed for his ninth consecutive season of 30 or more starts (and 10th with 28 or more) and is once again on course to top 200 innings. Maybe this will be his season to win some individual hardware.
Oh, and how important is Hamels to the Rangers? Try this:
Rangers rotation has 3 wins in last 25 games, all by Cole Hamels.
— Gerry Fraley (@gfraley) July 29, 2016
2. This is how you use Aroldis Chapman. Thank you, Joe Maddon. Top of the eighth inning, the Chicago Cubs lead the White Sox 2-1, tying run on third with two out, Melky Cabrera up. Cabrera is a switch-hitter, and better this season from the right side, but Hector Rondon has a sizable platoon split, so Maddon brought in Chapman for the four-out save. Part of the reason the Cubs acquired Chapman is they needed a lefty reliever. Well, the value of Chapman being left-handed is diminished if you only save him for the ninth inning and the randomness of where the opponent is in its lineup at the time. If it's the eighth inning and Bryce Harper or Gregory Polanco or Brandon Belt is up in a key moment, why not use Chapman? There's no reason he can't get four- and five-out saves, even in the postseason, when the luxury of the extra off days allows you to extend your best relievers a little more. Maddon could even use Chapman in the eighth and Rondon in the ninth to maximize the matchups if so desired. Pay attention to this during the final two months, because it could provide some insight into Maddon's usage in the postseason.
Sale, meanwhile, returned from Jerseygate and threw 111 pitches in six innings as the Cubs did a nice job making him run up his pitch count.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 29, 2016
That was fun, but the ending wasn't for the Red Sox. Price pitched eight scoreless innings, but the Angels then scored two (unearned) runs off Brad Ziegler in the bottom of the ninth for a 2-1 victory.
4. Jose Fernandez thought he woke up in St. Louis. Normally close to unbeatable at home, Fernandez allowed home runs to Aledmys Diaz and Matt Holliday as he gave up five runs in five innings, his shortest outing of the season, as the Cardinals won 5-4. He still has 2.11 home ERA compared to 3.86 on the road. Ichiro Suzuki singled as a pinch-hitter, giving him 2,998 career hits. He'll have three games at home this weekend to get those two hits he needs.
5. Twins scoreboard operators know the future. This was pretty funny. Imagine sitting in stands and thinking these trades happened. The operators should have slipped in a "Trout to Twins" one in there.