By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Jason Hammel is the name, shutout innings has been his game.
After throwing seven shutout innings Tuesday night in leading the Cubs to a 4-1 win against the Brewers at Wrigley Field, Hammel has run his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 22. He won for the 13th time this season and for the sixth time in as many starts since the All-Star break, helping Chicago complete the day-night doubleheader sweep.
Hammel now features a 0.95 ERA in the season’s second half, the best mark in baseball. So should people be surprised by his recent elite performance?
“If they want to,” the modest Hammel said allowing two hits, three walks and striking out seven throughout a season-high 110-pitch outing. “I could care less honestly. I am just going out by out. (David Ross) got me through a couple of things. I had good fastball command except for three or four hitters. The walks were bugging me. I can do without the walks.”
Hammel’s terrific outings have coincided with him discovering the hydration benefits of eating potato chips after he experienced some cramping issues earlier in the season. Hammel has recorded three straight outings of shutout baseball.
“The last few have been really good,” Hammel said. “I try not to pay attention to that. Each outing is its own game. You roll on your game plan. It is a different chess match each time you go out there. I just try to be prepared.”
Cubs starting pitchers are amid a sensational stretch. The rotation is 10-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 14 August starts and have allowed two or fewer runs in 11 consecutive games.
“It is good, it is really good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I can’t say it’s better than any other team I have had. I have had some good teams in the past. I will just say its as good as I have seen and had the pleasure managing. The difference is more interchangeable stuff. Guys here can play multi-faceted defense and still not lose anything. It’s different because there are more moving parts in the National League.”
On Tuesday, it was a play by first baseman Anthony Rizzo that was the defensive web gem. In what was nearly a duplication of last season’s tarp climb and dive into the stands against the Brewers, Rizzo navigated behind the tarp and climbed the wall ledge down the right-field line to make a catch on a ball headed for the first row of the seats.
Afterward, he had a timely reference to Team USA’s women’s gymnastics team, nicknamed “The Final Five,” that just won a gold medal in Rio.
“Same pitcher (Hammel), different batter,” Rizzo said in amazement. “Maybe final five or six of girls gymnastics. We have been watching them in the Olympics. I had a great dismount, could have held the line a little better. I had time to get there, look down and step up. I was surprised I caught that to be honest.”
Chants of “MVP” rang out from the crowd as Rizzo just an appreciative wave of his glove to the fans.
“Look, we have six more weeks left,” Rizzo said. “It was really cool to hear the fans say that. There is a long way to go.”
The Cubs (75-43) have once again equaled their season-high of 32 games over .500.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.