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Hammel struggles from start as Cubs fall to Cardinals

Jason Hammel hands the ball to Joe Maddon after being taken out of the game in the third inning Saturday against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. | Jon Durr/Getty Images

Joe Maddon will be the envy of every manager in baseball when he selects his postseason pitching rotation.

He’s got the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta and two more pitchers vying for the honor this season.

He’s also got John Lackey, who has two World Series rings and eight years of playoff experience.

The odd man out, it seems, will be Jason Hammel, who finds himself in that position despite winning 15 games and posting a respectable 3.88 ERA this season.

Hammel’s body of work would put him in the top three, or certainly four, of nearly any other rotation in the postseason.

“Sometimes there’s guys that really deserve a spot and pitch well enough to get in there,” he said, “but for whatever reason, you have so much talent, unfortunately there are guys that are going to get left out.”

Hammel had a rocky start Saturday, giving up six runs in a 10-4 loss to the Cardinals. It was his fifth loss in his last seven outings.

“I’m a selfless guy and I don’t really try to think about the cog that I am in the machine,” he said. “When the season is said and done, I’ll look back at the body of work and be proud of it.”

Maddon said the team hasn’t discussed the postseason roster yet and wouldn’t say whether or not Hammel will have a spot.

Hammel has had stretches this season during which he’s been near unhittable. He went 5-0 with a 1.77 ERA in his first seven starts and then 6-0 with a 0.95 ERA in six starts out of the All-Star break.

A quick glance across the league shows any number of playoff teams that would love to have a workhorse like him in the rotation.

Hammel would arguably be the No. 3 playoff starter for the Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals, to name only a few.

And surely the injury-plagued Mets, who learned this week that Steven Matz may miss the postseason, could use a pitcher of Hammel’s caliber right now.

“A lot of people would love to have a guy like him,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “He’s having a great year. He’s won 15 games. He’s won 15 games because he’s done a great job. They don’t give you 15 wins because you’re pretty. They give it to you when you earn it.”

The Cubs could choose to keep Hammel in the bullpen for the postseason, but that option seems unlikely.

First, it’s unclear whether he’d be effective out of the bullpen. Hammel’s struggles often come in the first inning, which was again the case during a four-run first Saturday. Relievers don’t have the luxury of settling in.

Additionally, the Cubs already have a bullpen loaded with right-handers who have proven themselves effective in relief.

“Hammel is probably the guy that gets the least amount of credit around here,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “He’s the type of guy you take for granted. You take guys like Jason for granted until you don’t have him and until you have to fill in for him with a minor league pitcher or a bullpen guy who is in the bullpen for a reason.”

No matter how it shakes out for him at the end of the year, Hammel said he’ll be happy with the season he’s had.

“You check your ego at the door,” he said. “We’re all good at this level. You pick your roster and you play your game with that roster. If somebody is going to be too into themselves, too egotistical about [their role], that’s not me, I don’t have that kind of character. I’ll be happy if I’m there and happy if I’m not.”