The Rundown: Steele Bests Burnes, Happ Heating Up, Unprecedented Waiver Moves Could Affect Postseason Races

“Well, I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone, but you stay so cool.” – Carlos Santana with Rob Thomas, Smooth

Imagine a world where Clayton Kershaw is racking up Cy Young awards with Mariano Rivera closing out his wins. I’m not saying Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay are an exact comparison, but it felt that way last night. The Cubs beat the Brewers 1-0 thanks to stellar efforts from two pitchers who tend to rely on just two pitches.

Steele is relentless with his four-seam and his slider and those are also Kershaw’s go-to pitches, though both hurlers have other options in their arsenals. Rivera threw a cutter and a fastball and nothing else during his Hall of Fame career. Alzolay has six pitches but throws his four-seam and his slider about 70% of the time. By the way, Steele is 15-3 as of this morning this morning and Alzolay has 22 saves in 23 opportunities. So excuse me for the comparison, that’s just how I’m feeling right now.

My confidence in Alzolay grows with each appearance. I haven’t had a lot of faith in the 28-year-old closer, but he’s been dominant enough to remove any lingering doubt. My biggest fear was that he might buckle under the pressure of a playoff game. Last night proved that’s simply not the case.

Steele, on the other hand, has been tough as nails the whole time. The Kershaw comparison is a stretch, but a hybrid of the Dodgers ace and Jon Lester is appropriate. Steele has owned the Brewers across two seasons the way dozens of hurlers once owned the Cubs. The lefty outdueled Corbin Burnes across six innings of shutout baseball on Tuesday night  and owns a 1.83 ERA with a 50:17 K/BB rate against Milwaukee since the start of 2021. I was a little worried when he reached a career-high in pitches last night, but he finished strong by striking out Willy Adames and Joey Wiemer in his final frame to give him eight punchouts on the evening.

Kyle Hendricks takes the mound today and has the opportunity to move Chicago to 11-1-1 in their last 13 series. The Cubs will move to within three games of Milwaukee if he’s successful, but he’s facing Brandon Woodruff, which is no easy task. The Cubs head to Cincinnati to play the Reds in a four-game set following today’s afternoon tilt. They’ll play a twin bill on Friday after an off day tomorrow and close the series with an 11:10am game on Sunday.

The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks last night while the Giants dropped the Reds. The Cubs now trail the Phillies by four games for the top Wild Card entry and they lead San Francisco by one game for WC2. We are down to the final 30 games of the season and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Chicago win the NL Central outright.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

How do you tell Shohei Ohtani “Goodbye and good luck next season wherever you play” without actually saying it? The Angels gave up two of their best prospects a month ago to acquire Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López from the White Sox, then placed both on waivers Tuesday. Who’s running that shitshow if it’s not Artie Moreno? I hope Mike Trout finds his way to another team, too. Los Angeles gets nothing but salary relief if/when those players are claimed.

Don’t count on any of these players coming to the Cubs because they’re a little too close to the luxury tax threshold and they’re too far down on the waiver list. If I was a betting man I’d say Giolito will end up with the Reds or Blue Jays and Matt Moore will go to the Giants. I doubt Jed Hoyer would have any interest in López, Hunter Renfroe, or Randal Grichuk, but I could see one of those players landing with the Brewers.

All told, nine valuable players were waived by five teams and all will impact the playoff races in both leagues.

Central Intelligence

  • Milwaukee (74-58): The Cubs snapped Milwaukee’s winning streak at nine games, which means no free burgers for Brewers fans courtesy of the George Webb restaurant chain. The Brew Crew last won 12 in a row in October of 2018. When that happened, the restaurant handed out 90,000 burgers.
  • Cincinnati (68-66): The slumping Reds are just 9-17 since leaving Chicago on August 3, and they’re counting on waiver wire positioning to boost their rotation. The “we’re going to be a lot better because we currently suck” plan is the folly of all sinking teams. They could add Walter Johnson to that rotation and still be mediocre because of their shoddy defense.
  • Pittsburgh (60-73): Ke’Bryan Hayes has been on a tear this month. The Pirates third baseman is batting .320 in August with six homers and 20 RBI.
  • St. Louis (57-76): TV game show host Bob Barker, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 99, once wanted to pursue a career as a pitcher for the Cardinals.

Climbing the Ladder

“On we sweep with threshing oar. Our only goal will be the western shore.” – Led Zeppelin, Immigrant Song

I predicted the Cubs would win 90 games this season if Hoyer acquired midseason reinforcements. The trade for Jeimer Candelario and the promotion of Jordan Wicks are solid additions, but Chicago still needs to go 20-10 to make my preseason projection accurate. Adding Pete Crow-Armstrong to this team might be enough to get them there.

I’d also like to see Christopher Morel and Dansby Swanson get back to hitting bombs with regularity. Swanson has hit just two home runs since August 2 but has five hits (all singles) in four games. He’s a streaky hitter, so maybe he’s about to break out. Likewise, Morel has two home runs in that same time frame but entered last night’s game in a 7-for-60 (.117) slump with 23 strikeouts.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the Cubs will win four of their next five and 10 of 12. Let’s circle back on September 11 when Chicago heads to Colorado to see if I am right. That would put the Cubs at 80-64 going into a three-game set with the Rockies.

  • Games Played: 132
  • Record: 70-62 (.530)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 5,055
  • Total Strikeouts: 1,161
  • Strikeout Rate: 22.96%
  • Team Batting Average: .253
  • Runs Scored: 665
  • Runs Allowed: 589
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs74%, 2.4% to win the World Series

How About That!

All of the above waived players are theoretically valuable given the right fit, but the two relievers should draw the most attention. The left-handed Moore had a 1.95 ERA last year and owns a 2.30 mark this season.

Where will each player land? The Sporting News lists the best fit for each of the Angels players. Mike Clevinger, who was waived by the White Sox, could end up back with the Padres.

The Yankees announced that third baseman Josh Donaldson has been released. Donaldson will be on release waivers until 1pm ET today, at which point he will surely go unclaimed and become a free agent.

Major League Baseball is being forced to confront safety issues after a pair of incidents in Denver and Chicago this week, the latter of which involved a firearm being discharged at Guaranteed Rate Field. Ronald Acuña Jr. was nearly tackled by a pair of fans at Coors Field on Monday.

An umpire in a Frontier League game was ejected by another umpire following a heated exchange with one of the players.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Alex Cobb – The veteran Giants starter came within one out of pitching a no-hitter against the Reds.
  2. Grichuk – He was 3-for-4 with a home run and scored four times in the Angels’ 12-7 loss to the Phillies, and then Los Angeles waived him.
  3. Isaac Paredes – The Tampa Bay slugger hits his 27th homer of the season and plated four runners on a 2-for-5 night to lead the Rays to an 11-2 win over the Marlins.

Extra Innings

The big arm of Yan Gomes nailed Christian Yelich last night and probably sealed the win for Steele.

Wednesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Yesterday was the NFL’s version of Reckoning Day, and the Bears cut veterans Trevis Gipson, Kindle Vildor, and Trestan Ebner to reduce their roster to 53 players. UDFA Tyson Bagent will be the primary backup to QB1 Justin Fields as the roster currently sits.
  2. Fueled by sizzling ocean temps, Hurricane Idalia hit Florida’s Gulf Coast early this morning as a Cat-3 storm with 120 MPH winds.
  3. At least 28 counties in central and western Florida issued evacuation orders with local officials strongly urging residents to leave, but tens of thousands, including many residents citing previous encounters with hurricanes in the area, say they wanted to stay and protect their homes and belongings. I’m not an expert, but unrealized sensationalism during previous storms by The Weather Channel is probably a big reason, too.
  4. An article written by AI recapping a football game in Westerville, Ohio, went viral on X for being borderline illegible. The article referenced the game as “a close encounter of the athletic kind,” and used the phrase “The Warriors chalked up this decision in spite of the Warhawks’ spirited fourth-quarter performance.” What, no editor?
  5. GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy rapped Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at the Iowa State Fair earlier this month, trying to convince the crowd he’s cool and White House-ready. Eminem reportedly “lost it” when he found out and sent a cease and desist letter to Ramaswamy. I mean Ramaswamy sort of sounds like Real Slim Shady, right? No?
  6. Despite poor dental insurance policies that barely cover any major expenses, the acrylic implant market is exploding. Expect to pay anywhere from $30,000 if you go to Dubai or Costa Rica to $150,000 stateside for a full set of uppers and lowers.

They Said It

  • “This is what we sign up for. This is what you hope for in spring training. It’s as exciting as it gets for me.”David Ross
  • “I loved pitching in that environment. Wrigley [Field], 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.” – Steele

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

This gift is for you if you have the stones to watch Ramaswamy’s version.

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