Chicago Cubs: Jason Hammel, bats ready to break out


After clinching a postseason berth late Friday night, the Chicago Cubs are ready to take it to their likely Wild Card game adversaries, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the first time since 2008, the Cubs will get at least a sampling of postseason baseball, thanks to a breakout season for an organization that will likely win 90 games in a year many expected them to only flirt with .500.

But with that playoff spot locked down, Joe Maddon and his team will now have to keep their foot on the gas if they want any chance at hosting the first playoff action at the Friendly Confines in over a half-decade.

Entering play Saturday, Chicago trails Pittsburgh for the top wild card spot by 4 1/2 games with just nine games left in the season. With Jake Arrieta toeing the rubber in Sunday’s series finale, the team turns to Jason Hammel Saturday afternoon in hopes of evening the series at one game apiece.

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Hammel (9-6, 3.79) has allowed at least three earned runs dating back to a month ago, when he limited the Braves to a pair of tallies in 6 1/3 innings of work. The veteran right-hander, who returned to Chicago on a two-year deal this winter after being dealt for Addison Russell and Billy McKinney last summer, is looking to step up in a big way Saturday.

Since injuring his hamstring near the mid-season point, Hammel has pitched to a 5.43 earned run average in 12 post-All-Star Break outings. Prior to the mid-July mark, he had a sub-3.00 ERA, so there’s a stark contrast in what the Cubs have gotten from their number three man in the rotation.

He’ll be opposed by Pirates’ left-hander Francisco Liriano (11-7, 3.41) – who was the recipient of the team’s richest free-agent contract ever this offseason, when he returned to the Steel City on a three-year, $39 million deal.

First pitch is set for 12:05 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.

Here are the starting lineups:

Next: Keys to the Cubs' success against the Pirates this weekend