The Chicago Cubs' nightmarish stretch against the St. Louis Cardinals finally came to an end with an impressive doubleheader sweep.
Another victory Wednesday night would give the Cubs their first series victory against St. Louis this season, but Michael Wacha figures to pose plenty of problems in the finale of this four-game series.
After losing five in a row and eight of the first 10 meetings with the Cardinals, Chicago (46-37) took both ends of a day-night twinbill Tuesday, winning 7-4 in the afternoon and 5-3 in the nightcap. Anthony Rizzo had two runs and three RBIs over the two wins, and Addison Russell snapped a 1-for-31 skid to drive in his first run in 12 games as the Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Cardinals (54-30) for the first time since June 8, 1992.
Chicago can now move 10 games over .500 Wednesday - a feat the franchise has not accomplished since the 2008 season, when they finished with an NL-best 97 wins.
"With all due respect, I do feel we can play with anybody. I really do," manager Joe Maddon told MLB's official website. "We have to prove it, though. ... For me, and for us, I feel strongly about our group, but we've got to prove it."
A third straight win over the first-place Cardinals won't come easy with Wacha (10-3, 2.66 ERA) on the mound, as the right-hander trails only Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole (12) for wins among NL pitchers. Wacha allowed one run over seven innings in a 2-1 loss to San Diego on Friday, and earned his latest win with six strong innings in an 8-1 victory over the Cubs on June 27.
He has had trouble with Starlin Castro and Rizzo, yielding a combined 12 hits and two home runs in 28 at-bats, but Wacha has stifled the remainder of Chicago's lineup, allowing seven or fewer hits in all five career starts against the Cubs.
Wacha's only loss against Chicago came in his only start at Wrigley Field, as he allowed two runs over six innings in a 3-0 defeat May 3, 2014.
He opposes Jason Hammel (5-4, 2.89), who is 0-2 in his past five starts despite a 3.25 ERA. He lost his second consecutive start Friday against Miami, yielding two runs and four hits in seven innings.
The right-hander continued to pitch well at Wrigley Field, where he has posted a 2.25 ERA in seven starts this year. Including last season, Hammel has a 2.94 ERA in 33 starts as a Cub and a 2.30 ERA at Wrigley, compared with 3.45 on the road.
"We're confident in what we can do and we're playing tight ballgames," Hammel told MLB's official website. "All this is doing is preparing us for a shot at the playoffs, because this is what every playoff game is like - one-run games, tight, every pitch matters, all pressure-packed innings. We're playing good ball."
In St. Louis on June 28, however, Hammel struggled, lasting four-plus innings while allowing four runs in a 4-1 defeat.
Matt Carpenter had an RBI off Hammel in that victory, but has done very little since, hitting .185 with no extra-base hits in his last nine games.
Kolten Wong could be held out of the series finale after suffering a head injury in Tuesday's opening game, forcing Carpenter to make his first start at second base since 2013 in the second game. Wong hit his head on the ground while making a leaping catch.
"You know how I stand on this issue," said manager Mike Matheny, whose own playing career was ended by concussions. "We want to make sure we take as much as information as we can."