Cubs

Jason Hammel sees Cubs ready for playoffs: ‘We’re good and we know it’

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Jason Hammel sees Cubs ready for playoffs: ‘We’re good and we know it’

CINCINNATI – Jason Hammel had always been optimistic about the rebuild, twice signing with the Cubs as a free agent, first on a flip deal and then the multiyear contract that was supposed to help bridge the team into contention.

But to win 94 games and have the third-best record in the majors by 2015?

“I think everybody would be a little surprised at that,” Hammel said after Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “But that’s not to say it wasn’t in the cards. We’re good. And we know it."

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta gets one more shot to make Cy Young case]

The rookie hazing meant franchise-level players –  Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler – had to put on dresses and pose for a group photo inside Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse.

The youth movement accelerated this year, but to make a long postseason run, the Cubs will need a veteran starter like Hammel to step forward.

For five scoreless innings, Hammel (10-7, 3.74 ERA) shut down a last-place team that has lost 12 games in a row. Hammel looked sharper against a Reds lineup that still included Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, finishing with five strikeouts and zero walks.

Manager Joe Maddon – who has frustrated Hammel at times with the quick hook – worked off a pregame script and wanted to give his bullpen some work.

“I was obviously surprised,” Hammel said. “I think the only way I wouldn’t have made a stink about it was because I felt so good. I wanted to continue to go out there and feel it. It’s been a little while.

“Any time you’re working yourself out of a funk, you want to keep doing it and keep doing it.”

[MORE CUBS: What if Cubs had traded for Jonathan Papelbon?]

Hammel might have needed that boost of confidence for October. A leg injury clearly disrupted his rhythm and impacted his performance before (2.86 ERA) and after (5.10 ERA) the All-Star break.

“A tale of two halves,” Hammel said. “Post-injury, I wasn’t very good. That’s the honest view of it, but sometimes those things can derail you a little bit. Not to make excuses, but I battled and did the best that I could with what I had.”

If the Cubs survive the wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and advance to face the St. Louis Cardinals, do you expect to be a playoff starter?

“I’m going to prepare that way,” Hammel said.

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).