“I cloud nine when I want to. Out of school, yeah. County fair in the country sun, and everything is true.” – Sly & The Family Stone, Hot Fun in the Summertime
Summer may end for some with the passing of Labor Day, but the Cubs are extending it for the rest of us with their drive for the playoffs. A scant 24 games remain on Chicago’s schedule and we’re about two weeks away from magic number conversations. The Cubs won 74 games in 2022 and are now 74-64 this season.
Justin Steele shoved in the 93-degree heat on Monday. If he wasn’t getting any national attention in what is a bone fide Cy Young season, his 12 strikeouts and two hits over eight shutout innings put him at the center of the conversation. He’s right up there with Spencer Strider, Devin Williams, and Blake Snell after yesterday’s performance.
Justin Steele is now the 2nd favorite, ahead of Strider and Gallen, for NL Cy Young.
+300 Steele (as low as +200)
— Joe Ostrowski (@JoeOstrowski) September 5, 2023
Steele is 16-3 on the season with a 2.55 ERA and is Chicago’s best starter since Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. He also leads the majors in winning percentage and ERA+ per Baseball-Reference and has a 153:33 K/BB ratio. He has become the homegrown ace fans have longed for since the days of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The Cubs have won 13 of Steele’s last 14 starts and have won Steele-pitched games started by Charlie Morton, Chris Bassitt, Corbin Burnes, and Logan Webb.
The weekend started pretty poorly with two walk-off losses in Cincinnati, but the Cubs trail the Brewers by just 2.5 games after yesterday’s 5-0 victory. They’re also three games ahead of the Diamondbacks and Reds for the second Wild Card spot and their postseason odds have improved dramatically since July 17. The buzz at Wrigley Field these days is as palpable as those 2015-18 seasons.
“There’s definitely more energy around the neighborhood,” Steele said after yesterday’s game. “There’s definitely a different buzz in the air. You can just tell everybody’s really excited.”
His performance also gave Chicago’s bullpen a much-needed rest. José Cuas pitched the 9th inning and retired the Giants with 14 pitches. Kyle Hendricks pitches tonight and Jordan Wicks will take the bump in the series finale tomorrow.
Cubs News & Notes
- Steele is firmly entrenched in a battle with Snell for the NL Cy Young crown.
- Steele became the first Cubs pitcher since Yu Darvish in 2019 to rack up at least a dozen strikeouts.
- Seiya Suzuki had a big day at the plate yesterday with a home run and three RBI.
- Javier Assad is another homegrown pitcher making an impact in Chicago’s starting rotation.
- Jameson Taillon is slumping again and the Cubs need him to reverse course if they hope to make a deep postseason run.
- Brandon Hughes and Nick Burdi have begun rehab assignments at Iowa.
- Hughes, Burdi, Brad Boxberger, Ben Brown, Luke Little, Marcus Stroman, and Pete Crow-Armstrong are all potential roster additions for the stretch run.
- The Cubs are capitalizing on a baseball-wide boost in stolen bases. Nico Hoerner leads the team with 36 swipes.
- Hoerner’s 13.1% whiff rate entering Monday’s action would be the second-lowest recorded by a Cub since 2015.
- It seems every game the Cubs play lately has a great deal of heft to it.
- The Cubs were 53-53 when Jed Hoyer made the bold decision to add to the roster at the trade deadline. They’re 21-11 since acquiring Cuas and Jeimer Candelario.
- First-round draft pick Matt Shaw has entered Pipeline’s Top 100.
- The Cubs offense was struggling until breaking out in Sunday’s 15-7 win over the Reds. Mike Tauchman had his first career four-hit game in that contest.
- Shane Greene made his Cubs debut on Sunday, but Alexander Canario has yet to see any game action.
- The Yankees are reportedly in the mix to sign Cody Bellinger this winter.
Odds & Sods
Adley Rutschman has a unique but phenomenal ability to rifle a baseball while blindfolded.
Adley Rutschman can throw down to second base blindfolded better that most catchers can normally pic.twitter.com/tpBiRJvlRx
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) September 5, 2023
- Milwaukee (76-61): The Brewers signed third baseman Josh Donaldson to a minor league deal over the weekend.
- Cincinnati (72-68): New Reds pitcher Michael Mariot was one day shy of retirement after a seven-year minor league career when Cincinnati called him up.
- Pittsburgh (64-74): The Pirates selected the contract of reliever Hunter Stratton and designated Rob Zastryzny in a corresponding move.
- St. Louis (59-78): Adam Wainwright has been stuck at 198 career wins since June 17, but he’ll get a shot at 199 in Atlanta Thursday night. It will be the last time the 42-year-old faces the Braves, who originally drafted him in 2000.
Climbing the Ladder
“Poison’s in my bloodstream; poison’s in my pride. I’m after rebellion but I’ll settle for lies.” – Blue Öyster Cult, Flaming Telepaths
Cuas has a 0.64 ERA in 14 appearances since the Cubs acquired him at the trade deadline.
Steele is now one of six hurlers in team history (and the only lefty) to pitch eight or more shutout innings with 12 or more strikeouts while allowing two hits or less. The others are Arietta (twice, including a no-hitter), Wood (twice, including his 20-K game), Frank Castillo, Pat Malone, and Lon Warneke.
Steele’s very appropriate walk-out/warm-up song is “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
- Games Played: 138
- Record: 74-64 (.536)
- Total Plate Appearances: 5,282
- Total Strikeouts: 1,209
- Strikeout Rate: 22.89%
- Team Batting Average: .253
- Runs Scored: 697
- Runs Allowed: 605
- Chances of Making the Playoffs: 89.8%, 3.4% to win the World Series
How About That!
Regardless of what procedure Ohtani has, his agent said the 29-year-old intends to continue pitching and hitting as a two-way player.
Monday’s Three Stars
- Steele – He is getting stronger as the season wears on.
- Royce Lewis – The Twins third baseman hit a grand slam and plated six runners on the day in a 20-6 win over the Guardians. Lewis has hit three grand slams in the last nine days.
- Jose Altuve and Mauricio Dubón – They hit back-to-back home runs twice while leading the Astros to a 13-6 win over the Rangers yesterday. The AL West race is the best in baseball right now with one game separating Houston, Texas, and Seattle.
Not a Star: Lucas Giolito is the first pitcher to allow eight or more runs in a game for three different MLB teams in the same season since Bill Magee did so in 1899 for the Phillies, Senators, and Louisville Colonels.
Strikeouts by the dozen.
Career day for Justin Steele 💪 pic.twitter.com/RJv9rUPPlR
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 4, 2023
Tuesday Morning Six-Pack
- We mourned the losses of Jimmy Buffett, Gary Wright, and Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth over the weekend. Buffett is famous for the iconic “Margaritaville” but I always preferred “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.” Wright’s signature song was “Dream Weaver” though “Love is Alive” is much better. Just about everybody has heard “All Star” by Smash Mouth.
- Buffett died of a rare but aggressive form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.
- I’m breaking down the Bears by position group over at Bears Insider. I’ve covered quarterback and running back so far. Chicago opens its season this Sunday with a home game against the Packers.
- Tomorrow is National Read-a-Book Day. May I suggest “Where Nobody Knows Your Name” by John Feinstein?
- Organizers of the annual Burning Man music and arts festival lifted a driving ban on Monday afternoon as muddy roads that had stranded thousands of attendees in the Nevada desert had dried up enough to allow people to begin leaving.
- The Pentagon launched an Anomaly Resolution Office website for declassified UFO info, featuring videos of resolved cases (and, eventually, tools to report sightings). President Jack Nicholson could have certainly used this information.
They Said It
- “We know what Steeley’s got. He’s got a tremendous heater that sometimes plays as a cutter. It also rises sometimes, and we try to play that in between. You know, call a pitch and hope it does what we want it to do. But today was one of the sharpest moments I’ve ever seen from him. I wanted it up; he threw it up. I wanted it down; he threw it down. That helps, in a way, to set up guys and put them away. But the biggest thing with him is the confidence that he’s getting every time he’s going out there.” – Yan Gomes
- “I just want to keep showing up every day and winning ballgames. I really like where the team’s at and I feel like we’re starting to click on all cylinders. Everyone’s picking each other up when it’s needed. It’s just a lot of fun.” – Steele
- “[Canario] will get at-bats for sure the rest of the way. He’s not going to be in a position where he’s not playing for the entire month. But someone was going to have their everyday playing paused, right? And maybe that ends up being a lot of people at different stages of the month. But we did talk about it, and it was a consideration. But ultimately, he was the right decision.” – Hoyer
- “[Canario] is at the bottom of the depth chart.” – David Ross
Tuesday Walk-Up Song
I got ear-wormed yesterday so I thought I’d share.