Maybe it’s the performance-enhancing potato chips.
Whatever’s gotten into Jason Hammel since his doctor-suggested salt-and-potassium regimen it’s worked well enough to make him the hottest pitcher in baseball since the All-Star break – and the leader in the Sun-Times’ first installment of the Cubs’ starting rotation power rankings.
As the Cubs get closer to their most excruciating decision since the Tommy La Stella Huggies-or-Pampers debate, turn here for an occasional look at how the top rotation in major league baseball stacks up, with an eye toward how they might settle on that eventual four-man playoff group.
With all due respect to reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Wednesday’s ace-of-the-night Jon Lester – who beat the Brewers 6-1 – give Hammel an extra bag of potato chips for topping this week’s rankings.
“I don’t even go through a bag [of chips]. It’s a couple handfuls here and there,” said Hammel – who on Tuesday night improved to 6-0 with a 0.95 ERA since the break. “Because things have been working, I’m just kind of rolling with it.”
He’s not the only one rolling among this group.
When Lester (13-4) stymied the Brewers over 6 2/3 innings for the Cubs’ 17th win in 20 games, the Cubs’ rotation had an ERA of 2.81 with barely a quarter of the season left – by far the best in MLB.
Only three teams since 1990 have had rotation ERA’s under 3.00 – none of them as good as 2.81.
They’re 11-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 15 games this month, averaging close to seven innings a start.
And all five starters have strong cases to make for spots in the playoff rotation – if not Cy Young consideration this year.
Arrieta and Lester have each won NL Pitcher of the Month awards this year and are pitching well now – and neither makes the top two spots in the power rankings this week.
“We’re all throwing the ball pretty well. I mean, I’m not going to rank them,” said Arrieta, who heads into Thursday’s start in play for a second straight Cy Young. “Put Hammel and [Kyle] Hendricks No. 1 if you want.”
Done. In fact, make it 1-2 for the chip meister and the so-called fifth starter chasing an ERA title over the final weeks.
“As long as we’re throwing well and we’re ready at the end of September, that’s really the only important part of what we’re trying to do,” Arrieta said. “We need to be crisp at the end of October.”
Decisions like playoff rotations tend to take care of themselves.
For example, John Lackey – whose 3.41 ERA trails the others – is nursing a sore shoulder that may yet require a DL stay.
On the other hand, nobody’s keeping him from a playoff start – maybe the biggest reason he was signed last winter – if he’s ready to pitch.
“Good problem to have,” Hammel mused. “Probably better than trying to fill the third or fourth spot.”
Not that he’s willing to offer a vote for the rankings any more than Arrieta.
“That’s tough. Pick a month and it could rotate easily 1-2-3,” he said. “That’s really tough.”
That’s the point. That’s why we’re here.
“We’re not really thinking about who’s going to be pitching what game of the playoffs,” Hammel said. “That’s way too far down the road. None of the guys on this staff have an ego problem. We all check that at the door.
“We understand there’s a reason why that person’s out there every night, and you leave it at that.”
Rotation Power Rankings
The Cubs’ rotation leads the majors in ERA by more than a half point (2.81), including 11-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 15 games this month. How they rank today:
- 1. Jason Hammel (13-5, 2.75): Must be the chips. He’s 6-0, 0.95 since the break
- 2. Kyle Hendricks (11-7, 2.19): This year’s Jake? 7-1, 1.22 since June 19
- 3. Jake Arrieta (14-5, 2.55): Sure, he’s good, but he’s no Kyle Hendricks
- 4. Jon Lester (13-4, 2.86): A+ on throws to plate; D- anywhere else
- 5. Trevor Cahill (1-0, 0.00): First start as a Cub Wednesday opened eyes
- 6. John Lackey (9-7, 3.41): Big-boy games or big-boy shoulder issue is big-boy question
NR: Adam Warren (0-0, 1.80, traded to Yankees); Brian Matusz (0-0, 18.00, back in minors); Mike Montgomery (makes first Cubs start Saturday).