The Chicago Cubs have found their ace.
Justin Steele took the mound for the Chicago Cubs on Monday as the Cubs began a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants, the team that is trailing the North Siders for the second wild card spot in the National League.
It was a showcase start for Steele and he delivered. Steele pitched 8 shutout innings against the Giants on Monday while totaling a career-high 12 strikeouts. Steele's ERA is now down to 2.55 on the season and that is second in all of Major League Baseball with San Diego Padres starting pitcher Blake Snell having a mark of 2.50.
Given the collapse of the Padres this season, Steele is no longer the name you mention as a dark horse candidate to win the National League Cy Young award. No, Steele is firmly in the Cy Young award race and may even be the leader.
For the Cubs, Steele's breakout season was the best-case scenario after the starting pitcher posted an ERA under 1 during the second half of the 2022 season. Entering the season, there was a belief that Steele could trend toward becoming a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher but he has blown past those expectations. Steele is an ace and that is an important development for the Cubs as they enter this off-season.
The Cubs will still have a need in their starting rotation but with Steele having back-to-back performances of going over 100 pitches in an outing and showing the capability of working into the eighth inning, he is checking all the boxes of being a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Steele's emergence allows the Cubs to slot Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks into their much natural roles of a No. 2 and No. 3 starting pitcher in a rotation. It would seem inevitable that the Cubs pick up Hendricks' club option for the 2024 season while the recent rib injury likely will push Stroman to exercise his $21MM player option for next season. That would push Jameson Taillon to the No. 4 spot in the Cubs' rotation and allow some flexibility in the event that his first-season struggles with the Cubs are not an anomaly.
That leaves the final spot in the rotation up for grabs with a group of prospects in Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown, and Hayden Wesneski who all likely will be considered for the spot. Of course, it likely is a situation where the Cubs will add a veteran to give more insurance to their Major League pitching staff.