Rumors have been swirling since the winter that the Chicago Cubs are interested in acquiring Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels.
With the trade deadline approaching, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will get an up-close look at the left-hander Saturday when he takes the mound at Wrigley Field.
Reports surfaced in the offseason that Chicago was looking to deal for Hamels, with Philadelphia rebuilding and trying to shed the remaining years on his hefty contract.
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That trade never materialized, but with the Cubs (51-44) in the wild-card race and the Phillies (35-63) owning the worst record in the majors, discussions between the teams have reportedly started again.
"There's a very long week to go, and I think things will probably go up and down a few times in that stretch as far as supply and demand goes," Hoyer told MLB's official website. "There are three, four, five teams actively assessing their situation on a day-to-day basis, and that's the nature of the second wild card."
Hamels (5-7, 3.91 ERA), though, hasn't done much recently to show any contending team that he's worth a package of top prospects which the Phillies will surely want in return.
The 2008 World Series MVP is 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in his last nine starts and has been roughed up in the past two. He gave up a career-worst nine earned runs and career high-tying 12 hits in 3 1-3 innings of a 15-2 loss at San Francisco on July 10, then allowed five runs and eight hits over three innings before Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run walk-off homer in an 8-7 win over Miami on Sunday.
Hamels refused to blame the poor performances on the trade rumors.
"If you play long enough, your name eventually is going to be involved with speculation or an actual trade," he said. "My track record speaks for itself. Sometimes you can get yourself in a rut and you have to be able to get out."
Hamels has a solid track record against the Cubs, going 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his last six matchups. He last faced them in 2013, meaning Chicago's group of young hitters that includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler will see him for the first time.
The Cubs will counter with Jake Arrieta (11-5, 2.52), who is tied for second in the NL in wins and ranks in the top 10 in ERA, strikeouts (133), opponent batting average (.211) and WHIP (0.98). The right-hander has been nearly unhittable over the last month, going 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA in six starts as opposing batters have hit .152 with no homers.
"Nobody's ever completely locked in from start to finish," Arrieta said. "It's up to you to understand the adjustments necessary and then have the ability to make them. And that's what I've been able to do consistently over a pretty good stretch of the season."
Arrieta set a career high for wins Sunday, allowing three hits and striking out 10 over seven scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory at Atlanta.
"He's just figuring everything out right now - that's what's going on," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I hate to tell you, but there's actually some more in the tank there. There's another level of him."
Arrieta has won his last two starts against the Phillies behind a 0.66 ERA.
Francoeur was the hero again in Friday's series opener, hitting a two-run homer in the 10th as Philadelphia won 5-3 to improve to 6-1 since the All-Star break.
He also hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer in a 6-3 victory over the Marlins last Friday and is 7 for 12 since the break. Francoeur's only hit in six at-bats against Arrieta also left the park.
"Ruin other teams," Francoeur said. "That's what you want to do. At this point, that's why you want to play."