Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.
Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates – with no guarantees about October or next season.
Hammel responded with another quality start in Wednesday’s 6-5 win, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.
Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he called a side day at Dodger Stadium – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to an 85-47 record and such a huge lead in the National League Central (now 15 games up on the St. Louis Cardinals).
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run on three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. With the bases loaded, Hammel screamed and flexed his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging to end the fifth inning.
On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant launched his 36th homer (in the first inning off Ryan Vogelsong) and made Gold Glove-caliber plays at third base to back Hammel, diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and prevent a run at the end of the second inning, and leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up at the beginning of the fourth inning.
This could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?
“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel.
“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”