Cubs hoping to avoid a worst-case scenario with the Justin Steele injury

A lengthy IL stint for the team's ace right out of the gate could be disastrous for Chicago.

Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers
Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Any time it's Opening Day and your team's starting pitcher is trending on X (formerly known as Twitter), it's either really good or really bad. For the Chicago Cubs, it was unfortunately the latter, with ace Justin Steele departing in the fifth after suffering what looked to be a left hamstring injury.

Craig Counsell and Steele both addressed the injury after the game, but both admitted that imaging would paint a clearer picture as far as the extent of the injury and how much time the left-hander will miss.

“It’s hard to tell right now since it’s so soon after it happened,” Steele told reporters after the game. "Spirits are high. It was good to get out there and get the first one under your belt — opening day, all the jitters and everything. I was definitely nervous today leading up to the outing so it was good to feel all those emotions and get back out there and get on the horse again and have a speedy recovery from this.”

Cubs' starting pitching depth will immediately be forced into action

Steele was cruising up to that point, allowing just one run on three hits in 4 2/3 innings of work, with six punchouts against the reigning World Series champs. He was getting a ton of first-pitch strikes, with the Rangers struggling to figure him out, despite leaning exclusively on his signature two-pitch mix. Now, at least for the foreseeable future, the Cubs have to figure out life without him atop the rotation.

The depth in the starting rotation was never the issue. The Cubs have multiple avenues they could go to fill Steele's spot while he's out. But those options, for the most part, fall well short of being able to provide what Steele brings to the table. It very much feels like a 'keep the ship afloat' situation, in hopes that last year's fifth-place finisher in NL Cy Young voting can return sooner rather than later.

We'll know more in the next day or so. But suffice to say losing the one guy universally viewed as the team's most important player on Opening Day wasn't the start to the 2024 season we all had in mind.