With their top three pitchers lined up at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs certainly did not expect to be in position to drop all three games to the team with baseball’s worst record.
That’s where the playoff hopefuls stand, however, after getting no-hit for the first time in 50 years.
After losing games started by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the slumping Cubs hope to salvage a win against the resurgent Philadelphia Phillies as Jason Hammel goes after his first victory in seven weeks.
Chicago (51-45) was looking to make a push during this stretch against four of the NL’s bottom five teams. Instead, the squad has dropped four of the first six against Cincinnati and Philadelphia while falling 1 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the second wild-card spot.
The Cubs are struggling offensively, batting .213 while averaging 2.8 runs over their last 12 games. They went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s 5-3, 10-inning loss before Cole Hamels tossed the first no-hitter against the franchise since Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965.
"Nothing will top winning a World Series, but this is right under it," Hamels said after what could be his final start for the Phillies with the trade deadline looming.
Kris Bryant, who made the final out in Saturday’s 5-0 loss, is batting .132 with 22 strikeouts over his last 14 games, leaving 31 men on base. Fellow All-Star Anthony Rizzo has gone 3 for 24 over his last six.
Kyle Schwarber might able to help as he’s expected to start behind the plate. The rookie slugger has gone 10 for 24 with two home runs in nine contests since getting recalled from Triple-A Iowa.
Chicago hopes to turn things around for Hammel (5-4, 2.82 ERA), who has received nine total runs of support in seven winless starts since beating Washington on June 6.
After getting pulled due to a hamstring injury after one inning in his previous outing July 8, Hammel surrendered one earned run over five in Tuesday’s 5-4, 13-inning win at Cincinnati.
"It was a stepping stone for me," Hammel told MLB’s official website. "Things definitely weren’t as bad as last time, but we’re still going to keep treating it and make sure we stay on top of it."
The right-hander has gone 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his last seven home starts. He’s 1-2 with a 6.56 ERA in four career starts against the Phillies (36-63) but hasn’t faced them since 2012.
Jeff Francoeur is 4 for 9 when facing Hammel, though Ryan Howard has gone 1 for 8. Francoeur is 7 for 12 with three homers since the All-Star break and Howard had a three-run home run and a double Saturday.
After losing a team-record 62 games before the break, the Phillies have won seven of eight. They’ve also scored five runs or more six times after averaging a baseball-worst 3.4 per game in the first half.
Aaron Nola didn’t get any run support Tuesday in his major league debut, but the 2014 first-round pick yielded one run with six strikeouts over six innings in a 1-0 home loss to Tampa Bay.
The right-hander will try to help the Phillies complete their first three-game sweep at Wrigley since 2009.
According to the league’s official website, the Cubs are among the teams pursuing a trade for Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon. Chicago is currently using a committee led by Jason Motte, who blew his first save in seven opportunities in the opener.