Let’s get the worst part of the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Rays out of the way right at the beginning.
Justin Steele was apparently breezing through the Rays lineup. During the top of the third, David Ross and trainer Nick Frangella came out to check on Steele, who wound up finishing the inning.
Hayden Wesneski came out to throw the fourth and later, here’s what we learned:
Cubs announce Justin Steele left today's game with left forearm tightness.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) May 31, 2023
Forearm tightness is never, ever a good thing for a pitcher. The Cubs say it was done just as a precaution. Here’s the postgame update:
Justin Steele will get imaging tomorrow, per David Ross. Pulled for precautionary measures but obviously tests will show the whole story.— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) May 31, 2023
At this point, all we can say is the usual, that we await developments, as always.
So — back to the game. The Cubs took a first-inning lead off Zach Eflin. Nico Hoerner led off with a walk and stole second. One out later, Ian Happ made it 1-0 Cubs [VIDEO].
Happ then stole second as Seiya Suzuki struck out. It seems as if the Cubs had a scouting report that they could run on Eflin, and that they did. Oh, I said Suzuki struck out? Come on, plate umpire Will Little, you have got to be kidding me:
Sorry, Will. That was ball four. The ball-strike challenge system can’t come to MLB quickly enough.
Anyway, Happ was now on second base and Mike Tauchman drove him in [VIDEO].
Tauchman tried to join the stolen-base party but... no, Mike, you shouldn’t have done that, he was thrown out easily. That might have been important later — the Cubs seemed to have Eflin on the ropes and let him off the hook.
Anyway — after Steele left the game, Wesneski threw very well until the seventh inning, when he issued a two-out walk. Me? I’d have left Wesneski in, he was only at 60 pitches. Instead, Mark Leiter Jr. entered to face Brandon Lowe. On the face of it, that wasn’t a bad move, because Leiter has been so good against lefthanded hitters this year. Not this time, as Lowe took him into the bleachers to tie the game.
The Cubs, though, got that run right back in the bottom of the seventh. Suzuki led off with a double and Tauchman sacrificed him to third, just the third sac bunt by the Cubs this year. Trey Mancini batted for Matt Mervis and gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
So let me say this right here and now. There are a few Cubs hitters who are good on the basepaths. Trey Mancini is not one of those hitters. Witness: He has three career stolen base attempts, none since 2019. Randy Arozarena is a really good outfielder and played that ball well off the wall and Mancini, running like he was late for work, was an easy out at second base.
So instead of having a runner on first and Patrick Wisdom up with one out, there’s nobody on and two out — again, a baserunning situation that could have cost the Cubs.
But, they had a 3-2 lead. And Leiter started the eighth. Well, that was a mistake. He issued a leadoff walk and then Jose Siri sent a ball out of the yard and the Rays led 4-3.
It’s an old line in baseball — sometimes, you just have to use the guys you have. But in this case I think I wouldn’t have let Leiter throw another inning. Adbert Alzolay, who was so good Tuesday night, entered and allowed a couple of hits, but got out of it with a double play.
The Cubs got a leadoff walk from Miles Mastrobuoni in the eighth and he stole second, but Christopher Morel struck out. Nico Hoerner singled, with Mastrobuoni having to stop at third (he’d have been out by 20 feet). But Dansby Swanson struck out, and even after Nico registered the Cubs’ fourth steal of the game, it didn’t result in any runs as Happ struck out to end the inning.
In the top of the ninth, Julian Merryweather walked the bases loaded with two out. David Ross called on Michael Fulmer, which seemed like a disaster in the making, but Fulmer struck out Yandy Diaz to end the inning with the Cubs still down just one.
They had a run at it in the ninth, really they did, with Tauchman drawing a one-out walk. Edwin Rios batted for Mancini and was hit by a pitch, which was reviewed [VIDEO].
It really just hit his jersey, but that’s enough for a HBP, and the call was confirmed. (Probably worth a Rays challenge in the ninth inning, though.)
Wisdom hit a ground ball to third that should have been a game-ending double play, but Isaac Paredes (the former Cubs prospect) threw it away to load the bases.
Well. Now any one of a number of things could have at least tied the game. Mastrobuoni ran the count full before striking out, and that brought up Yan Gomes, who ran the count to 3-0. One more ball and it’s tied.
But no. A called strike and two foul balls and then this [VIDEO].
Gomes hit it just a little too hard and Arozarena was able to catch it to end the game.
Sigh. Look, the Cubs took two of three from the best team in baseball. That’s something, anyway. They also took two of three from a good Mets team earlier in the homestand. It was that Reds series that ruined the homestand.
Still — we are just 55 games into this season. There is plenty of time remaining. The Cubs are in a weak division where every team is flawed. I believe they can still come back and make a run at the division title.
I’ll wrap this with a bit of good news about Steele:
"I'm really not too concerned about it. I think it was more just precautionary."- Justin Steele— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) May 31, 2023
Obviously the MRI etc will tell more, but that would be very good.
Let’s hope that turns out to be the case. One last Steele note, from BCB’s JohnW53:
Only one previous Cubs starter pitched three perfect innings, then left the game. It happened 30 years ago yesterday, on May 30, 1993, when Jose Guzman started at home against the Expos. Guzman was lifted after the second of two long rain delays. The Cubs ultimately lost, 5-2.
The Cubs have Thursday off and hopefully that allows them a reset before they begin a 10-game road trip to California. It begins with a four-game series against the Padres in San Diego. Jameson Taillon will start Friday’s series opener against Padres righthander Michael Wacha. Game time Friday is 8:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.