Two starting pitchers with a 7-5 record and 2.98 ERA will square off Friday morning at Nationals Park. Despite their nearly identical success on paper this season, Jason Hammel and Tanner Roark hold different values in the eyes of their respective teams.
With each passing start, Hammel has looked more and more appealing as a trade chip. One of the Cubs' top arms, Hammel owns a 97/21 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 102 2/3 innings this season. And considering Chicago's lackluster 37-46 record, his 7-5 record is all the more impressive.
But the Cubs have dealt two starting pitchers in each of the last two seasons, and Hammel and Jeff Samardzija could be next on the chopping block.
While the July 31 Trade Deadline looms in the not-so-distant future, Hammel continues to take it one start at a time. For now, he's a Cub.
"I just don't listen to [the rumors]," Hammel said. "I knew what I was getting into coming here. It comes with the territory. I understand you're going to talk about it. It's very similar to what's happened in the past. It's not anything I feel like worrying about, because I have no control over it."
"I hope Hammel stays around," John Baker said. "It may happen, it may not happen, but for me personally, [Hammel and Samardzija] are two guys I think you can build a rotation around, and I hope they stay around."
While the Cubs continue to entertain the idea of shipping off Hammel, his Friday counterpart has become a part of Washington's foundation in 2014.
After stringing together four straight wins, the 27-year-old right-hander had his worst performance since early April when he surrendered four earned runs on 10 hits against the Cubs last Friday, raising his ERA from 2.79 to 2.98.
"I couldn't keep the first guy off base. That was the biggest thing," Roark said. "There was a little pressure, but nothing I haven't seen before. Changeup, curveball, fastball was a little off today, just a smidge I feel like. They were just putting good wood on the ball."
Through 21 starts between 2013 and 2014, Roark has a 2.47 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his first 153 1/3 innings of big league action.
The game will serve as a rematch of last Friday's contest, when Hammel threw 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball to better Roark's effort (six innings, four earned runs) in a 7-2 Cubs win at Wrigley.
Cubs: Alcantara producing at Triple-A
The Cubs' so-called core four may need to make room for one more. Arismendy Alcantara -- ranked No. 6 on the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list -- is making quite an impression at Triple-A Iowa. The infielder was batting .307 in 82 games with 10 home runs, 22 doubles, 10 triples and 20 stolen bases. He's played both second base and center field.
"His year has been on a really good trajectory," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I feel he's the under-appreciated guy in our system. He's only 22, he's a switch-hitter, he's in Triple-A and no one talks about him because of guys like [Javier] Baez, [Kris] Bryant and [Albert] Almora."
Baez, Bryant, Almora and Jorge Soler have been dubbed the core four, and are considered the top prospects in the Cubs' system. Add Alcantara to the list.
"He's opened our eyes with the year he's having," Hoyer said.
Nationals: Bats heating up with full lineup back
The Nationals have played only four games with their entire lineup in 2014 because of long-term injuries to Bryce Harper (torn left thumb ligament), Wilson Ramos (left hamate fracture/right hamstring strain) and Ryan Zimmerman (right thumb fracture) at various points earlier this season. The first game was on Opening Day, March 31, and the other three were played on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies.
In total, the Nationals scored 26 runs on 24 hits in those four games, 17 of which came during the team's three-game sweep of Colorado. And with Zimmerman, Ramos and Harper finally healthy, the Nationals aren't showing any signs of slowing down at the plate.
• In his last start, Chicago's five left-handed hitters went 9-for-20 against Roark with five runs and six RBIs in the game. Seven of the nine hits came against Roark even though lefties were hitting just .192 against him entering the contest.
• Cubs pitching had a 3.26 ERA (92 earned runs in 254.0 innings pitched) in June, fourth-best in the National League. The team last had a lower ERA in a calendar month in Sept.-Oct. 2010, when Chicago pitchers posted a 3.24 ERA (93 earned runs in 258 innings).
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.