Much has changed for the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers over the past year. That’s certainly been the case since they last met two months ago.
The teams, who begin a two-game set Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, have gone in vastly different directions since splitting two meetings in Detroit on June 9 and 10. The Cubs are 36-23 following that series, while the Tigers have gone 25-32 to fall back in the AL wild-card race and become unexpected sellers at the trade deadline.
Both are in unfamiliar territory for mid-August. Chicago (67-49) is in excellent position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 while Detroit (56-61) faces an uphill climb to extend its playoff streak to five seasons.
Chicago’s rise to the NL’s second wild-card spot has been fueled by a 15-2 stretch, highlighted by a nine-game win streak halted with Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
The Cubs were averaging 5.8 runs during their win streak before managing three hits and striking out 18 times – 15 to Chris Sale – on Sunday.
"You’re not going to win them all, man. That doesn’t happen," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told MLB’s official website. "We’ve been playing really well. We continue to play really well. We just ran into a good pitcher and that was the difference in the game."
Kris Bryant went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts to have a 12-game hit streak end. He’s hitting .319 in August while fellow rookie Kyle Schwarber has four home runs and 14 RBI over his last 11 games.
A matchup with Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.95 ERA) could have the Cubs back to their slugging ways. After going 7-0 over an eight-start stretch, the right-hander is 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA in his last four.
Sanchez allowed five runs on three homers in last Tuesday’s 6-1 loss at Kansas City to continue a troubling season-long trend. His 28 homers surrendered are tied for the most in the majors and he’s served up 15 over his last 10 starts.
However, that wasn’t an issue when Sanchez threw 7 2-3 scoreless innings to defeat the Cubs on June 9. He tossed a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati six days later in his most recent interleague assignment.
Sanchez has also handled several of Chicago’s key hitters. Anthony Rizzo is 2 for 9 off him, Dexter Fowler 2 for 10 with six strikeouts and Miguel Montero 3 for 20 with one home run.
With eight straight wins at Wrigley, the Cubs are in the midst of their longest home winning streak since reeling off 14 in a row in 2008. They turn to Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.10), who is 0-2 despite a 3.19 ERA in nine home starts since notching his lone win at Wrigley on April 27.
Hammel was in line for a win Wednesday after holding Milwaukee to a run in 5 2-3 innings of an eventual 3-2, 10-inning victory.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his last three starts but owns a 7.66 ERA in five against the Tigers, though hasn’t faced them since 2013.
Miguel Cabrera is 4 for 11 against Hammel and went 2 for 3 with a homer and three RBI in Sunday’s 6-5 loss at Houston. The All-Star first baseman is 4 for 7 in two games after going hitless Friday in his return from a calf injury that sidelined him six weeks.
”He looks good,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. ”I think his timing’s still off every now and then but he certainly took some good swings the last two days.”
Detroit is 2-4 on a challenging eight-game trip but has fared well at Wrigley Field, winning seven of eight there and taking two of three in their last visit in 2012. The Tigers have won 10 of 12 overall from the Cubs.