CHICAGO -- Jason Hammel says he's not superstitious, but his potato chip diet is working, so the Cubs right-hander is going to continue munching.
Hammel picked up his 12th win with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night, holding the Angels to four hits over seven scoreless innings. He's now 5-0 with a 1.16 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, which is when he started eating potato chips, per doctor's orders. The Cubs' team doctor suggested the chips in an effort to avoid cramping.
"I don't know if it's working but it tastes really good," Hammel said. "I had a few in the [24-pitch] fourth inning. It's still a silly idea to me but I'm doing it. I never said I'd be a superstitious guy, but now that I'm eating potato chips every game, I'm going to roll with it."
Manager Joe Maddon gives credit to Hammel's fastball command over the salty chips.
"If he knows where his fastball is going, he will pitch deeply in the game," Maddon said. "It's not complicated with him, or most starting pitchers. When they know where their fastball is going, they can pitch deeply in the game."
Hammel has given up two or fewer runs in six straight starts for the first time since April 8-May 5, 2012. He has not given up a run over his last 15 innings, and he's really thriving at Wrigley Field, where he's 7-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 11 home starts.
The right-hander has struggled in the past in the second half but spent the offseason working on getting stronger physically and mentally so he could perform better after the All-Star break. That's working, too. Hammel said the difference is that he's using his legs more to throw the ball, not his arm.
"That doesn't make sense when you read it, but it's really true -- it starts from the ground up," Hammel said. "To be able to use my legs, it will allow me to pitch in games later in the season."
It also helps to have solid defense behind him. In the Angels' second, Albert Pujols lined a ball toward third and Javier Baez made a sliding stop to his left and was able to recover in time to throw him out.
"How about the play that Javy made at third? That ball was behind him," Hammel said. "I don't think Pujols could hit that ball any harder. We're almost spoiled on the left side -- we're almost spoiled everywhere. As long as we're in the zone, throwing strikes and putting the ball in play, guys will make plays, and if we score a few runs, it'll turn into a win. It's a pretty simple formula."
It's a cliche, but pitching and defense win games, and the Cubs are proving that. Wednesday's win pushed them to a season-high 30 games over .500, and was their ninth straight win.
"I've never been on a team this good before," Hammel said. "It's kind of silly to go out and watch the guys do their work and how consistent they are. You know something good is going to happen, you really do. We expect to win. and if you don't, you turn the page."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.