Top stats to know: Cardinals at Cubs

One of baseball’s best rivalries will get special treatment at 8 p.m. ET today (ESPN/Watch ESPN), with "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcasting the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs live from the Wrigley Field bleachers.

Here are some of the statistical storylines our broadcast crew will be looking at.

Jason Hammel’s surprising success

Jason Hammel’s 4-1 record, 2.08 ERA and league-leading 0.69 WHIP is one of the biggest early surprises of the 2014 season.

Lowest Opponents Batting Average
2014 Season (entering Sunday)

What have been the keys to Hammel’s success?

Hammel has thrown a much higher percentage of pitches at the bottom of the strike zone than he has in the past.

His rate of pitches in the lower-third of the strike zone or below in five starts this season is 46 percent, up from 35 percent from 2009 to 2013.

While Hammel has done a much better job neutralizing left-handers than he has in the past, he has been downright dominant against right-handed batters.

Righties are hitting .098 against him entering the day, the lowest opponents batting average for any ERA-title qualifier (two points better than Jose Fernandez entering the day). They’re 1-for-40 against him in two-strike counts.

Stats to Watch: Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn has had a lot of success for the Cardinals the past three seasons and he can thank his team’s offense in part for that. The Cardinals average 5.4 runs per game in Lynn’s starts over the past three seasons, the third-highest rate in the majors.

The thing to be wary of when Lynn struggles is the big inning. He has allowed three or more runs in an inning 27 times over the past three seasons. Only Jordan Lyles has yielded more big innings (29).

Lynn has always had more trouble with left-handed batters than right-handed batters. From 2012 to the present, he has allowed righties to hit .240 with a .637 OPS and lefties to hit .267 with an .808 OPS. That gap has been only more pronounced this season, with lefties hitting .291/.371/.509 in 62 plate appearances in 2014.

The struggles of the Cardinals' outfield

Without Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals outfield has not been able to replicate its past success.

Cardinals Outfielders
Last 2 Seasons

Cardinals outfielders rank 14th in the NL in batting average and slugging percentage, and 13th in on-base percentage.

The difference from last season to this season is stark and can be seen in the chart on the right.

Starlin Castro’s turnaround

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has gotten off to a good start this season, hitting .313 with four home runs in his first 112 at-bats.

One reason for that is that Castro has been much more effective handling pitches on the inner half of the plate from right-handers this season. Pitchers have been attacking him there more often than they did last season, and he appears to be adjusting.

He’s hitting .370 with three homers in at-bats that end against righties that end with a pitch on the inner-half. Last season, he hit .264 with five homers on those pitches.