CHICAGO — When Cole Hamels joined the Chicago Cubs earlier this season, the veteran starter didn’t expect he would take on such a vital role.

But as the Cubs close in on what they hope is their third straight National League Central Division title, Hamels could be a major reason why. Coming off his worst start joining the Cubs, Hamels will attempt to keep Chicago moving in the right direction when he takes the mound Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

Hamels (9-10, 3.90 ERA) has not recorded a victory since Aug. 28 and had registered no-decisions in three straight starts before being roughed up in his last outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Now, with the Cubs magic number at five to clinch the division title after a 6-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox Sunday, Hamels hopes to rebound Monday against the Pirates.

Hamels is coming off a start in which he allowed seven runs and nine hits over six innings as he surrendered more than three earned runs for the first time since July 23 — his final start with the Texas Rangers. Hamels is 5-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 12 career starts against Pittsburgh.

Despite taking two of three games from the White Sox over the weekend, the Cubs realize that they still have to take care of their business as they cling to a 2 1/2 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers with seven games to play.

“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves,” Cubs ace Jon Lester told reporters Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We’re only 2 1/2 games ahead. We have a long way to go.”

The Cubs will attempt to keep their focus set on the Pirates, who will look to play spoiler starting Monday against the Brewers. But as Chicago attempts to close out the division title, second baseman Javier Baez says Chicago cannot become consumed by the teams chasing them.

“We know what we have,” Baez said Saturday, according to the Tribune. “We just have to stay away from every other team. They have to pay attention to us, not us to them. If we do that, we should be good.”

The Pirates will travel to Chicago having lost having officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Their 13-6 loss to the Brewers, coupled with the Cardinals’ victory over the Giants wiped out any hopes Pittsburgh had of seeing the season extend beyond the next week.

Despite Sunday’s loss, Pittsburgh has won six of their past eight games and could have an impact on Chicago’s division title chances depending on how they next four days against the Cubs play out.

But impacting other teams’ title chances doesn’t diminish the disappointment the Pirates feel after failing to miss the postseason for the third straight season.

“If we figure out how to win one game a month more, we’re in a very different spot as we finish this season,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told reporters before Sunday’s game, according to MLB.com. “If we win two games a month more, we’re fighting for a division, which is ultimately where we want to be, because [it puts you in] best positions you to win a World Series.”

Jameson Taillon (13-9, 3.24) will take the mound for the Pirates on Monday having won four of his past six starts.

Taillon threw seven scoreless innings in his last outing against the Kansas City Royals when he allowed just four hits and struck out 11. Taillon is 3-3 with a 4.35 ERA in seven career starts against the Cubs.

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