Chicago Cubs: What to expect from Jason Hammel in opener


Taking the ball in the opener of a pivotal four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel faces a tall task.

Trailing Pittsburgh by four games for the top National League wild card race, Joe Maddon‘s Cubs are staring down the barrel of four games against the Bucs followed by a weekend tilt against the first-place Cardinals.

Nothing like a little postseason tune-up, right?

In the series opener Tuesday afternoon, one has to give the upper-hand to Clint Hurdle‘s Pirates, who will turn to ace right-hander Gerrit Cole, who carries a 6-1 record and a sub-3.00 earned run average in his career against Chicago into the tilt.

Both the Cubs and Pirates are 7-3 in their last 10 contests, while St. Louis has stumbled to a 3-7 clip during that same stretch. With many suddenly questioning a Cardinals team that seemed invincible until the last few weeks, this stretch of four games in three days only carries more significance for both clubs.

Countering Cole will be the veteran righty Hammel, who will be making his tenth career start against the Pirates. In his career, Hammel has a 3.49 ERA – his sixth-best mark against any one opponent in his big league tenure.

So far this season, it’s been an up-and-down ride for the second-year Cubs hurler. In the first half, he pitched to a 2.86 ERA and 0.945 WHIP in 103-plus innings of work, limiting his self-inflicted damage, as well – evidenced by an outstanding 5.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

However, after the All-Star Break (which near-coincided with his hamstring injury he sustained against the Cardinals), Hammel has not been the same pitcher. His earned run average is nearly two-and-a-half runs higher (5.11) and he’s not hit his spots effectively like he did in the first-half.

For Hammel, it’s about hitting his spots. When he misses, he tends to get hit hard – which leads to the Cubs’ shaky bullpen getting tested.

The veteran has not pitched into the seventh inning in a start since back on Aug. 23 – which admittedly isn’t that long ago. However, prior to that, you have to jump to July 3, which is the last time he completed seven innings in a single outing – not a promising sign.

His last time out against Pittsburgh, Hammel tossed eight shutout frames at Wrigley. Of course, this came back on April 27 and, as noted above, he’s been a different pitcher as the season has wore on – but nonetheless, his success against the Bucs is something he can hopefully hone in on as he looks to lead the Cubs to a series-opening win.

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