CHICAGO — The Cubs have been through all the ups and downs this season. They’ve certainly faced their fair share of adversity, so they knew everything wouldn’t be perfect to end the year.
- Games remaining: vs. AZ (1), at COL (3), at AZ (3), vs. PIT (3), vs. COL (3), at ATL (3), at MIL (3)
- Standings update: The Cubs (76-67) are four games behind the Brewers (79-62) for first place in the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers have split the season series so far, so the tiebreaker has not yet been determined. Chicago sits in the second NL Wild Card spot, trailing the Phillies by three games, but holding a one-game lead over the third-seeded D-backs (75-68). The Marlins, Reds and Giants are also in the hunt. The Cubs have won the tiebreaker over San Francisco, but lost it to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Miami. They have four games left against Arizona.
“You just have to find a way to get over the hump,” Dansby Swanson said. “We got so many guys in this locker room that are ultra-competitive and believe the same things. That’s why I think we’re in a good position to be successful.”
Steele gave the team a chance for the win after another lights-out performance. Coming off back-to-back scoreless outings, the southpaw followed it up with six strikeouts over seven innings of one-run ball.
Steele’s dominant start lowered his ERA to an MLB-best 2.49, as he continues to establish himself as an ace on the mound.
“Vintage Justin,” manager David Ross said. “I thought the slider was really good today, had some really good depth. A couple of punchouts came on a lot of nasty sliders that had some really good bite to them, got them underneath the barrel. One of the best in the league. He’s an ace, he’s a [workhorse].”
Steele didn’t face much damage on Saturday, with his lone blemish coming in the fifth inning. After the D-backs put runners on first and third with nobody out, the left-hander allowed one run to score on a weak grounder from Gabriel Moreno — which also ended his 21-inning scoreless streak.
To no surprise, Steele was mostly in control all game on the mound. He has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in 16 straight starts, which should certainly push the left-hander up the National League Cy Young leaderboard.
“He’s really fun to play behind,” Swanson said. “Just his ability, his pitch mix, his compete factor is top notch. It’s something that, obviously, you love having on your team.”
On top of his MLB-leading ERA, Steele is tied for first in the NL in wins (16), tied for sixth in WHIP (1.13) and tied for first in quality starts. But the 28-year-old is just focused on doing his job to help the team win.
“I just go out there and try to do my job,” Steele said. “You know, go out there and give the team the best chance to win the ballgame each time out and doing what’s asked of me. So I feel like if I just keep doing my job, I’ll keep putting us in a good position.”
Steele’s start, though, was spoiled on Saturday. The offense could not capitalize on opportunities, and Arizona scored two runs in the 10th inning to seal the loss. With just four runs across three games this series, the Cubs acknowledged they need score more going forward.
“This is a good team we are playing,” Ross said. “I think as a whole, I don’t feel like we were just going to roll to the end of the season without any bumps in the road. I don’t think we’re playing bad baseball. We’re just not getting the key hits when we need it. So we have to stay confident and trust in our plan and our process. We have a long way to go, still a lot of games left.”
The Cubs’ three-game losing streak is the longest since they dropped three straight against the Guardians and Brewers on July 1-3. Since then, they’ve been one of MLB’s hottest teams.
Chicago has the third-best record in the Majors since July 4, going 38-23 during that span. The Cubs have shown they have the talent in the clubhouse to win, and they remain confident they can get over this small bump quickly.
“We went through some struggles and challenges early in the year,” Swanson said. “But this is a resilient bunch. We’ve proven time and time again that we will bounce back. Someone once said, ‘You’ve got to get the bad luck out to get the good luck in,’ so that may be tomorrow.”