Cubs turn to Justin Steele in bid to keep Pirates under their thumb

Field Level Media

September 20, 2023 at 12:23 pm.

As the Chicago Cubs look to continue their season dominance of the Pittsburgh Pirates, All-Star Justin Steele aims to rebound from a rare rough outing.

Aiming to get back on track, Steele will try to help the Cubs build on a needed victory from the opener of a series that will continue Wednesday night against the visiting Pirates.

Entering Tuesday night’s game as a loser of five straight and eight of 10, Chicago (79-72) broke out with four homers — including a grand slam for Alexander Canario’s first career home run — in a 14-1 victory over Pittsburgh (70-81).

The Cubs have outscored the Pirates by an 88-28 margin while winning 10 of their 11 meetings this season. Chicago currently occupies the third and final wild-card berth in the National League.

“It was just nice to take a breath,” said Cubs manager David Ross, whose team totaled 33 runs in the previous 10 games.

“Giving everybody a positive boost. … Hopefully, we can carry this in.”

Meanwhile, Steele (16-4, 2.73 ERA) ranks among the major league leaders in wins, ERA, winning percentage (.800), WHIP (1.14) and quality starts (22). However, he allowed a season-high six earned runs to go with seven hits and two walks in six innings of Friday’s 6-4 loss at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Despite those numbers, the left-hander doesn’t think it will take much to bounce back.

“Just execute the pitches a little bit better,” Steele said. “I made a few mistakes, and (the Diamondbacks) did what they were supposed to do.”

Steele also wasn’t at his most dominant at Pittsburgh on Aug. 24 but earned one of those quality starts by allowing three runs (two earned) and six hits over six innings in a no-decision.

It was one night later that scheduled Pittsburgh starter Mitch Keller (12-9, 4.04) stymied the Cubs. The right-hander yielded four hits and struck out six over eight scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory.

Keller is 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his last six starts and also went eight innings Thursday against Washington. He scattered two hits and fanned seven without a walk during a 2-0 victory.

“I think just being able to go out there and use all the pitches that I can use just keeps them off balance,” Keller said. “It’s the execution of the pitches, and making different pitches look like different things so we can get them off balance.”

Chicago’s Dansby Swanson, who hit a two-run homer Tuesday, and Pittsburgh native Ian Happ, who has reached base in 57 straight games against the Pirates, are a combined 12-for-29 with five doubles vs. Keller. The Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki is 3-for-4 against him, and with a homer and three hits Tuesday, is batting .355 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in his last 37 games.

Nico Hoerner is only 1-for-6 vs. Keller but is batting .370 during a career-best 13-game hitting streak.

Pittsburgh’s Connor Joe is just 5-for-55 in his last 16 games, but he is 4-for-6 vs. Steele. Meanwhile, teammate Ke’Bryan Hayes is 3-for-7 with a double and home run against the Chicago ace.

Hayes, who homered Tuesday, is batting .333 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs in his last 36 games.

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