Although their young lineup has fallen on difficult times, the Chicago Cubs won’t need a big day offensively if Jason Hammel can build on his best outing of the season.
The right-hander looks to continue his dominance of the league-worst Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday and help the Cubs avoid losing consecutive home games for the first time.
Since hitting .289 with runners in scoring position and averaging 5.5 runs during a four-game winning streak, Chicago (13-9) has gone 1 for 14 in those spots and totaled three runs while dropping two of three.
Only one of the Cubs’ five hits in Saturday’s 6-1 defeat went for extra bases and they struck out 18 times – their most since 2011. Rookie sensation Kris Bryant struck out in all four of his at-bats and has gone 0 for 9 with eight strikeouts over his last three games.
Anthony Rizzo was a bright spot by supplying the only scoring with a sixth-inning solo shot. The All-Star first baseman has reached safely in 11 consecutive contests, going 15 for 38 (.395) with seven walks for a .531 OBP.
Hammel (2-1, 3.55 ERA) is coming off Monday’s gem, when he allowed four hits and struck out seven over eight innings in a 4-0 home win over Pittsburgh. He’s had outstanding command in four starts, fanning 23 with only one walk over 25 1/3 innings.
"It all comes off the fastball," Hammel told MLB’s official website. "If you can’t locate the fastball, you’re going to be in big trouble. For me, it’s especially important. I have to use my tall frame and use the downhill plane – sinkerballers, we have to establish a strike zone first and then you get swings early after that."
Hammel has pitched particularly well at Wrigley Field, going 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA in nine career starts. He’s never faced the Brewers there, but is 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA in six meetings dating to his time with Colorado.
Khris Davis and former Cub Aramis Ramirez are a combined 2 for 14 off Hammel, but Ryan Braun is 5 for 13 in their matchups. Adam Lind is 4 for 9 with two homers versus Hammel since 2013.
Milwaukee (6-18) ranks near the bottom of the majors with a .225 average and 3.2 runs per game, though Braun is providing a spark with four home runs and eight RBIs over his last four games.
Carlos Gomez had an RBI single and stole two bases in his first game back from a 15-game absence because of a strained right hamstring, while Ramirez should be back after sitting Saturday due to left hamstring tightness.
Jimmy Nelson (1-2, 4.03) allowed a total of three earned runs over his first three starts, but he’s looking to rebound after giving up seven runs and a career-high five walks over 2 1-3 innings in Monday’s 9-6 loss at Cincinnati.
"I’m going to learn from it, flush it, and get ready for my next one," the right-hander said.
Nelson has yielded eight runs over 10 1-3 innings while losing two career starts versus Chicago – both in September. Chris Coghlan has gone 4 for 6 with a home run and two doubles in the matchup.
The Brewers haven’t gone this late in the season without a series win since 1972.