Cubs find 'cooler' form in late win over Giants

June 19th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The Cubs’ offense pieced together a late rally, the bullpen held the line and it all backed a strong start from lefty on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. It was the type of formula Chicago expected to see more often through the first three months.

Asked how good the 5-2 victory over the Giants felt, Steele cracked a smile.

“Winning's a lot cooler,” Steele said. “It's just a lot better. The energy is better, usually. So we just want to keep doing that.”

The North Siders have gone 4-8 since the ballclub last won two games in a row on June 4-5 against the White Sox. The Cubs have not won as many as three straight since late April. The team is continuing to hold out hope that each win it does notch will spark a long-awaited streak.

Here were three keys behind Chicago’s latest trip to the win column.

1. Steele rounding into form

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Steele caught a glimpse of the Majors’ innings leaders on display on the Wrigley Field video board. The Cubs lefty saw that Giants righty Logan Webb -- pitching opposite Steele in the night’s game -- was closing in on 100 frames this season.

“I was like, ‘How in the world is he [around] 95 innings already?’” Steele said. “It’s insane.”

Webb and Steele finished second and fifth, respectively, in National League Cy Young voting last season, and they lived up to the billing in their latest matchup. Webb limited the Cubs to two runs over seven innings (giving him an MLB-high 99 1/3 innings), while Steele struck out eight and allowed two runs in his 6 2/3 innings.

Steele’s outing gave him a 1.14 ERA (four earned runs in 31 2/3 innings) across his last five starts, during which he has lowered his season ERA to 3.16 from 5.68. After a left hamstring injury on Opening Day sidelined the starter until early May, Steele has been finding the form that led to his breakout showing last summer.

“He's been excellent. I would argue he's even been better than his numbers,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “He's pitched really, really well, and kind of quietly. Shota [Imanaga has] obviously got a lot of attention and rightfully so, but Justin's been every bit of what he was here last year.”

2. Swanson lifts off vs. Webb

One of the solutions to getting the Cubs’ offense back on track would be having veteran shortstop rediscover the production from the past few seasons. There was a moment of promise within Tuesday’s win.

In the second inning, Swanson received a 2-1 sinker from Webb that tailed inside and the shortstop connected with the pitch. Swanson drove it over right-center field with a 103.1 mph exit velocity, sending it into the bleachers for a two-run homer.

“It’s so tough to get the ball in the air against Logan Webb,” Counsell said. “It takes a really good swing to do it.”

Swanson’s homer was his seventh of the season, and the first blast Webb has allowed via his sinker this season, per Statcast. Heading into the night, Swanson was batting .180 with a .568 OPS over his past 36 games, dating back to April 26 (the last time his season OPS was north of .700).

“I know he's been frustrated with the year that he's having,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Monday. “He's working through some mechanical stuff that hasn't sort of let him get hot.”

3. Bullpen locks down the win

One night after closer Héctor Neris allowed a three-run homer in the ninth to send the Cubs to a gut-punch of a loss, Chicago’s bullpen set down seven in a row to close out the win.

Right-hander finished off the seventh inning with a strikeout -- stranding a baserunner for Steele -- and then cruised through the top of the Giants’ order in the eighth. Working with a three-run cushion, struck out the side in the ninth for the save.

“Tyson getting those four guys out set up that inning for Keegan,” Counsell said.

After Monday’s loss and prior to Tuesday’s win, Counsell maintained confidence in Neris in the closer’s role for the Cubs.

“Héctor has been in that role,” Counsell said. “Hector’s going to need to continue to be in that role for us, to me, to manage the games and to put the guys down there in the best position to succeed.”