Justin Steele Provides Emotional Wakeup Call from ‘Place of Love’ During Rare Cubs Win

Even though they were up 2-0 just two pitches into Saturday’s game in Milwaukee, no one believed the Cubs were in line for an easy win. If anything, the opposite was true. With the score unchanged in the bottom of the 3rd, things got a little shaky for the visitors. A series of soft hits and mental errors led to two Brewers runs and forced Justin Steele to take matters into his own hands by striking out Christian Yelich and Willy Adames to end the frame.

A very mild-mannered person when he’s off the mound, Steele pitches with an intensity that can flare up a bit from time to time. That was the case on Saturday as he stepped into the dugout and exhorted his teammates to “Make this stuff up!” Or perhaps he was kindly requesting they “Wake the fuck up!” as he shook both fists like the angriest old man at the darkest cloud.

The Cubs went on to take a slim lead in the 4th and then immediately surrendered the tying run before going on to win thanks to an Ian Happ two-run homer in the 8th. As trite as it is to say Steele’s outburst spurred the win, which was more of a relief than anything with the way the Cubs have been playing, there’s something to be said for exposing a little of that pent-up frustration to the light of day.

And quite a bit of light it was on Saturday, as the open roof let in glaring sunshine that played hell with Marquee’s cameras all afternoon. Screaming profanities at people isn’t always the best form of motivation, but it can work when everyone understands who’s doing it and why. Anyone who’s watched the Cubs play this season has said something very similar to what Steele did, so the players probably weren’t even all that surprised.

“I love every single person in that locker room,” Steele said after the game. “I know how good we can be, I know what it takes and stuff. And, yeah, it definitely comes from a good place. It comes from a place of love and passion, want-to. I wanna win baseball games and that’s what I show up every day to do.”

It helps that the Cubs did actually win this ballgame, even if Steele himself didn’t get credit for it in the box score. That’s been the case for him all season with an 0-3 record despite a 3.20 ERA and seven starts in which he’s allowed two or fewer runs. This was only the third time the Cubs have won in 12 Steele starts, so it’s less about his personal record and more about what the team is doing, or not doing, when he’s on the mound.

“It’s an intense game,” Ian Happ told reporters. “I think every single guy in this clubhouse is competing and wants to win baseball games every day. And when you’re going through a stretch like we are, that frustration is real. It’s about maintaining a level of focus.”

Among myriad issues with this Cubs team, a lack of focus appears to be at the forefront of their disappointing performance. They’ve made more outs on the bases than any other team in MLB and 15 of those 35 outs have come at home. Throw in boneheaded plays like the botched rundown that contributed to the headaches in that 3rd inning and you’ve got a squad that looks like a youth team just being allowed to make their own decisions for the first time without a coach holding their hands.

It’s neither fair nor productive to pin this all on Craig Counsell, but the manager has to bear some blame for a fundamentally unsound brand of baseball being played by a group that looks at times like it doesn’t give a shit. That’s why Steele’s eruption was immediately celebrated by so many who’ve been watching this mess unfold with mounting dissatisfaction.

“You can’t really dance around it,” GM Carter Hawkins told 670 The Score’s Bernstein & Holmes Show on Friday. “We haven’t scored many runs, and we’ve given up more runs than we’d like to as well. From that standpoint, the expected record is really similar to the actual, which is disappointing to say the least. That said, I think the talent of the players is above where we’ve played.”

We’ve heard the same thing over and over all year from the front office and players alike, so it’s about damn time someone stopped simply hoping things would get better. I don’t mean to say the players aren’t having private conversations about it in the clubhouse or that they don’t actually care, but sometimes it takes a little more of a spark to catalyze thoughts into actions.

Now we just have to wait and see whether Steele’s wakeup call really worked or if the Cubs will just hit the snooze button and go back to sleep for the rest of the season.

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