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Just how important is Cole Hamels' next start?

The Phils' left-hander makes what could be his final start before the trade deadline on Saturday afternoon, but just how important is it?

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The end may be nearing for Cole Hamels in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

Of course, we've been saying this for 12 months now, and Hamels is still here, twirling baseballs at opposing batters while wearing the red and white pinstripes. But with the July 31 trade deadline now a week away, things are getting serious, as reports indicate the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are discussing potential deals for the Phils' ace left-hander.

On Saturday afternoon, Hamels will make what could be his final start in a Phillies uniform, against one of the teams rumored to be most interested in him, the Cubs. And given how his last few starts have gone, there is a school of thought that it could be the one that dictates whether Hamels gets dealt and how good the return might be for the Phils.

On the season, Hamels is 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA, 3.37 FIP and 3.25 xFIP with an fWAR of 2.3. He is striking out 9.33 batters per nine innings (his highest strikeout rate since his 2006 rookie season) and walking 2.78 per nine, slightly above last year's 2.59.

So why is this start seemingly so important? Over his last two starts, against the Giants and Marlins, Hamels has lasted just 6 1/3 innings and given up 14 earned runs on 20 hits for an ERA of 19.89. And over his last seven starts, he has an ERA of 6.10, with four starts in which he gave up at least five runs.

However, it's also important to recognize that Hamels' FIP over his last two starts was 4.48, far below his 19.89 ERA, and over the last seven it's 2.59, much lower than his 6.10. He has not pitched as badly as his numbers would indicate.

But even if he had, why is one start so important? After all, Hamels has thrown 1921 career innings and made 293 career starts. He has a 3.31 career ERA and a 3.48 career FIP. He would seemingly have a track record that means a lot more than a few bad starts, and given the recent interest by the Red Sox and Cubs, one would hope other teams believe the same thing.

Of course, there is that "one exec" that Stark points to (who could be absolutely anybody in any front office, by the way, like an assistant GM in Seattle or a secretary to the team president in Cleveland) who believes Hamels' start on Saturday is one of the most important of his career.

Much of the time, we here on the internet live in a world of "should." Teams "should" know that Hamels' track record means more than his last two or seven starts. They "should" know that Hamels is worthy of a top prospect. They "should" know that it's going to cost a lot more to sign a free agent starting pitcher this off-season.

Teams "should" understand the mitigating factors surrounding Hamels right now, pitching for a rotten team, in horrible conditions against Miami, with trade rumors bombarding him for the last year. And my guess is there are lots of teams that have taken all that into consideration.

But we don't live in a world of "should." There are probably more than a few organizations who foolishly believe that they should make a decision on Hamels based on the ridiculously small sample size of one, two or seven starts.

If some of those executives work in the Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago or Texas front offices, then yes, Hamels' start on Saturday could be one of the most important starts of his career. At the very least, it would be very, very good for Hamels and the Phils to not be terrible against the Cubs this weekend.

The best thing for all concerned would be for Cole Hamels to dominate the Chicago lineup for seven innings on Saturday, and put an end to the hue and cry over his recent slump.

Because you can bet there are some teams out there that truly think the way Stark's tweet indicated.