Detroit Tigers (56-61) at Chicago Cubs (67-49)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Wrigley Field
SB Nation blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
Pitching Matchup: RHP Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.95 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.10 ERA)
There's something about Chicago that seems to resonate with Jason Hammel. Last season, Hammel made 17 starts for the Cubs, compiling a 2.98 ERA and 3.19 FIP in 108 2/3 innings. He and Jeff Samardzija were traded to the Oakland Athletics in the middle of the season to bolster their rotation, and the two went in separate directions. Samardzija thrived, amassing 2.1 WAR in just 111 2/3 innings down the stretch. Meanwhile, Hammel stumbled, with a 4.26 ERA and 5.10 FIP in 67 2/3 innings.
Hammel's below replacement level performance in the second half didn't cost him as much as some thought, though. He signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Cubs last December and has stepped back into their rotation like the trade to Oakland never happened. Hammel has a 3.10 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 127 2/3 innings for the North-Siders this season. His 4.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio eclipses the 4.52 mark he had with the Cubs last season, and he is already worth 2.1 WAR, his highest total since 2012. Hammel's 3.05 ERA in 39 starts with the Cubs is far better than his ERA with any other club, and nearly a run and a half lower than his career 4.45 ERA.
However, Hammel isn't quite the same pitcher at the moment. He averaged over 6 1/3 innings in his first 16 starts of the season, but a hamstring injury forced him out of start number 17 after just one inning. While the injury didn't require a trip to the disabled list, the Cubs have been treading extremely lightly with him ever since. He has only eclipsed the 100-pitch mark one time, and has not pitched six innings in any of his five starts since the All-Star break. He has still been effective, save for one start against the Philadelphia Phillies, but has put more of a strain on the Cubs' bullpen than earlier in the season.
To Anibal Sanchez's credit, he has been able to handle a solid innings workload all season long despite a rough ERA. He is also averaging over 6 1/3 innings per start, but his 4.95 ERA is the fifth-highest in baseball among qualified starting pitchers. Worst of all, Sanchez's home run troubles continued in his last start. He allowed three home runs at the normally-stingy Kauffman Stadium, increasing his total to 28 for the season, which leads the major leagues. That total is already seven higher than his career total with the Tigers heading into the 2015 season, and more than double his combined total from 2013 and 2014.
Hitter to fear: Kris Bryant (.333/.500/.333 in 4 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Miguel Montero (.150/.190/.350 in 21 plate appearances)
Of note: Anibal Sanchez has just three scoreless outings in 2015, one of which came against the Cubs. He held Chicago to six hits in 7 2/3 innings on June 9, collecting his first of seven consecutive wins. However, the tables have turned since then. Sanchez is 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA in his last four starts, while the Cubs are a National League-best 20-9 since the All-Star break. The Cubs still aren't scoring many runs -- they're under 4.5 runs per game during this dominant stretch -- but there is plenty of firepower available. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Anthony Rizzo all reached base safely against Sanchez at least once in their last meeting.
Despite its reputation as a very hitter-friendly ballpark, it has actually played slightly opposite in 2015. Granted, a lot of it depends on which way the wind is blowing (literally), but Wrigley has actually been slanted towards pitchers in 2015. The Tigers may more benefit from an extreme deviance one way or the other, though both starters -- fly ball pitchers, at 39 percent or higher in 2015 -- may be at mercy to whatever the park has in store for them. If Sanchez can limit the damage early, the Tigers will have an edge. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to do so lately.
Sanchez and the Tigers lose a homer-fest at Wrigley.
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