The Chicago Cubs’ overall winning streak came to an end a game shy of sweeping the top team in baseball, but another one could begin if they’re able to keep a run against the Milwaukee Brewers going.
The Cubs will try for an eighth straight win in the series Monday night as the clubs begin a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
After the Cubs (87-62) won the first two games against St. Louis over the weekend to extend their streak to five, the Cardinals won 4-3 Sunday to pull back to six games ahead of Chicago.
Pittsburgh won to extend its lead to two games over the Cubs for the top wild card, but Chicago manager Joe Maddon has the bigger picture in mind with all three NL Central clubs having all but secured playoff spots. The Cardinals and Pirates have the top two records in baseball and the Cubs are tied with Kansas City for third.
"I could not be more proud of our guys," said Maddon, whose team has seven games remaining on a 10-game homestand with Pittsburgh coming to town Friday. "It’s obvious we’re playing on the same level as they are right now."
His team’s second-half surge has been highlighted by a 19-5 home record dating to July 29 while scoring 6.0 runs per game.
Chicago lost the first two series against the Brewers but has since won seven straight with some impressive pitching, posting a 1.83 ERA and .203 opponent batting average. Jason Hammel has struggled lately but been in line with those numbers against the Brewers.
In eight starts since the start of August, Hammel (8-6, 3.73 ERA) is 2-1 with a 5.59 ERA and three starts in which he failed to make it beyond four innings. The right-hander gave up four runs and five hits in 3 2-3 innings of Tuesday’s 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh and wasn’t making any excuses.
"There were too many uncompetitive pitches today," Hammel told MLB’s official website. "It was unacceptable."
The only outing among the eight in which he hasn’t allowed more than a run was a 10-inning 3-2 win over Milwaukee on Aug. 12 as Hammel surrendered a run and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. He’s 7-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career starts against the Brewers and 4-0 with a 1.64 mark in six starts against them while with the Cubs.
Jean Segura is 1 for 12 against Hammel, but Ryan Braun (8 for 23) and Adam Lind (7 for 27) have both homered off him twice.
Milwaukee (63-86) ended an eight-game losing streak with Sunday’s 8-4 home win over Cincinnati. Lind was 3 for 4 with three RBIs and is 7 for 12 in his last four games, while Braun has missed two games with a bad back.
The Brewers are a half game back of the Reds for fourth place in the Central, which isn’t the kind of September race Lind had in mind when signing with the club.
"It wasn’t what I was hoping for coming over, but you’ve got to make the best of the situation," he said. "I guess we aren’t going to have a hundred losses, so that’s kind of a big deal, I guess."
Over the nine-game span, the starting rotation has a 7.34 ERA, which in part falls on Wily Peralta.
Peralta (5-9, 4.41), a 17-game winner a season ago, gave up five runs and six hits in four innings of Wednesday’s 5-4 home loss to St. Louis. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts and 1-4 with a 3.94 mark in his last five against the Cubs.
Anthony Rizzo (12 for 26 with five home runs) and Starlin Castro (12 for 27 with two homers) have hit him best.