Justin Steele carries the Chicago Cubs to a 5-0 win with a career-best start — and puts his name firmly in the Cy Young conversation


Picking the best moment in Justin Steele’s start Monday against the San Francisco Giants poses a challenge.

Maybe the 93.1 mph four-seam fastball Giants catcher Patrick Bailey whiffed on to end the seventh inning and surpass Steele’s previous best in strikeouts. Perhaps the stretch of 16 consecutive batters retired or never allowing a runner to get in scoring position.

Eight shutout innings and 12 strikeouts, both career highs, convey Steele’s utter domination in the Chicago Cubs’ 5-0 win.

With the victory, the Cubs (74-64) matched their 2022 win total and remained three games clear of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds for the second National League wild-card spot.

In the last 20 years, only two Cubs pitchers had thrown at least eight scoreless innings with 12 or more strikeouts: Jake Arrieta (2014 and his 2015 no-hitter) and Ryan Dempster (2008). Ken Holtzman (1972) had been the lone Cubs lefty to do it. It’s a rare combination that has happened only 20 times in franchise history by 15 pitchers.

“It’s one of those games where you want to pitch all day,” Steele said. “You just want to keep going out there. It’s always fun when you know you have your stuff, you know where your four-seam and slider are going, you’re able to go in, out, up, down. … I just want to keep building on it. The days you have your stuff you want to capitalize on it.

“For me, I don’t know about other ballplayers, you dream of big moments — it’s fun to complete the moments.”

A full-count, two-out walk in the first and a two-out single in the second represented the Giants’ only baserunners until Steele walked J.D. Davis to begin the eighth. Steele erased him on the next pitch, forcing Casey Schmitt to hit into a double play.

The 39,452 fans packed into Wrigley Field roared when Steele struck out Mike Yastrzemski for the final out of the inning and his start.

“It’s fun to watch guys throw like that and give you a chance to win every single night,” manager David Ross said, “especially when they’re going toe to toe with some of the better ones in the game. He’s done that for us, been that horse and as consistent as anybody we’ve had for a while now.”

Giants starter Logan Webb typically features a 40-40 split between his changeup and sinker. But he challenged the Cubs with a changeup-heavy mix, accounting for 64% of his pitches thrown, and the Cubs didn’t have much success against it despite coming in with the fifth-best average versus changeups thrown by right-handers.

Seiya Suzuki slugged a solo homer off a Webb four-seam fastball in the second for the lead, and Suzuki bested him again in the seventh for an RBI double when Webb left a changeup over the middle of the plate.

Yan Gomes’ RBI single extended the lead to 3-0 in the seventh, and the offense tacked on two more runs in the eighth against Tristan Beck. Dansby Swanson connected for an RBI double and Suzuki tallied his third RBI on a fielder’s choice.

Steele set the tone with his four-seam fastball, dotting the baseball around the zone wherever Gomes wanted it. He generated 13 whiffs and 12 called strikes with the fastball.

Steele’s development into the staff ace creates inevitable comparisons to left-hander Jon Lester. When asked if watching Steele gives him any flashbacks of his former teammate, Ross wanted to avoid putting that on Steele but did share an observation of the two lefties.

“Jon wanted the ball in the biggest moments, Steele wants the ball in the biggest moments,” Ross said. “Steele feels like he’s putting us on his back and carrying us where we need to go and going out and doing what he does best and competing really well.

“Jon was really good at that too — that doesn’t even do Jon credit — but Steely for sure, he’s a big-game pitcher.”

Steele’s performance has him firmly in the NL Cy Young Award discussion. Through Monday he ranks in the top 10 among NL starters with his 16 wins (tied for first), 2.55 ERA (second), 4.3 fWAR (third), 2.98 FIP (third), 1.14 WHIP (tied for sixth) and 4.64 K/BB (sixth).

Steele is part of a deep group of Cy Young contenders that includes the Atlanta Braves’ Spencer Strider, the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen, the San Diego Padres’ Blake Snell, the New York Mets’ Kodai Senga and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Zack Wheeler.

“He’s becoming the elite pitcher that we thought he would be,” Gomes said. “These kind of moments are big in that kind of race.”


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