Who says the Cubs can’t develop great pitching?
Justin Steele is a strong contender for the National League Cy Young Award and he showed the reasons why Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. He gutted out six innings — several of them after being hit in the leg by a 100 mile per hour line drive — and the Cubs got excellent relief work and made a first-inning run stand up for a 1-0 win over the Brewers.
Steele allowed a walk and a single in the first, but got out of the inning without incident.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cubs put a run on the board with some small ball. Nico Hoerner was hit by a pitch with one out. Ian Happ doubled him to third.
Little did we know that would be the only run of the game.
In the top of the second, former Cub Victor Caratini smacked a line drive off Steele’s leg [VIDEO].
After a bit of a delay, Steele remained in the game. If anything, he got stronger after that hit. The Caratini single was followed by another Brewers single, but Steele induced a double-play ball to end the inning.
Steele allowed two more hits in the third, but struck out the next two Brewers to end that threat.
Meanwhile, the Cubs weren’t having any further luck off Corbin Burnes. They had a baserunner in the second and one in the fourth, but neither man got past first base.
In the top of the fifth, Brewers center fielder Tyrone Taylor lofted a ball toward left field. Look at what Happ did to that ball! [VIDEO]
The truth is, most days that ball leaves the yard. A strong 17 mile per hour wind blowing in pushed that back into the ballpark. There were a couple of other baseballs hit later in the game by Brewers that also would likely have been home runs on other days. We’ll take it.
Steele finished the sixth inning by striking out Joey Wiemer with his 111th pitch of the game. That established a new career high for Steele, and it’s also the most pitches thrown in a game by any Cub this year. A Cubs pitcher has thrown 100 or more pitches in a game 14 times this year. Steele accounts for six of those games.
Thge Cubs had some chances in the middle innings. They had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth on singles by Christopher Morel and Nick Madrigal and a walk by Mike Tauchman.
The Cubs also had a pair of runners on in the sixth with one out, but Seiya Suzuki and Jeimer Candelario struck out to end the inning.
Mark Leiter Jr. threw a 1-2-3 seventh. Christian Yelich singled to lead off the eighth, but one out later Yan Gomes threw him out trying to steal second [VIDEO].
The Cubs couldn’t score in the eighth, so on the game went to Adbert Alzolay time, and Alzolay must have arrived as a closer because now he has his own special entrance video.
A fly to center was the first out. Alzolay struck out pinch hitter Sal Frelick for out number two.
That was yet another fantastic team effort, mostly by the pitching staff. It was great to see the Cubs’ leverage relievers — and yes, Merryweather is now one of those — do what they needed to do. The Brewers had only two baserunners after the third inning, and one of them (Yelich) was erased on the caught stealing.
Individual pitcher wins mean less than they ever have in baseball history, but Steele really earned that one, his 15th. He is now leading the major leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA+ and home run rate (0.7 per nine innings, just 11 in 144 innings). His 2.69 ERA is second in the N.L. to Blake Snell, and his 3.5 bWAR rank fourth. There’s competition for the Cy Young from Snell, Zac Gallen and Logan Webb, but I’d put Steele right up there with any of them. He’s become a true ace.
It was the Cubs’ second 1-0 win this year. The other was Marcus Stroman’s one-hitter over the Rays May 29. (Remember him?) It’s also the first time they’ve won multiple 1-0 games in a season since 2018, when they did that three times (August 16 and August 17 vs. the Pirates, and September 15 vs. the Reds). The Cubs haven’t had more than three 1-0 wins in a season since 2015, when they accomplished it five times.
Props from Steele to Wrigley fans, via The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg:
“I loved pitching in that environment,” Steele said. “Wrigley, the fans here do a really special job of knowing the situation, knowing what’s at stake, knowing when to get on their feet. That’s stuff you just don’t really see everywhere else.”
You really don’t. Those of us who attend games at Wrigley know what a extraordinary place it is in general, but when you have meaningful baseball there like this, that goes to an entirely different level.
The win moved the Cubs back to within four games of first place in the N.L. Central. They remained in the second wild card spot, four games behind the Phillies, who also won Tuesday. The Giants beat the Reds — in fact, Alex Cobb came within one out of a no-hitter — and moved into the third wild card spot, one game behind the Cubs. The Reds now trail the Cubs by three games.
The Cubs will go for the series win Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Brandon Woodruff will go for Milwaukee. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.