Enhanced Box Score: Braves 9, Cubs 2 – May 22, 2024

If you didn’t actually watch this game, you might be worried about Justin Steele. After all, how can anyone have been anything other than “really bad” with five earned runs to their name? Well, I’m here to tell you he was just fine. Actually, scratch that: Justin Steele looked plain good tonight. And he COULD HAVE left this game after the sixth with the following final line: 6.0 IP, 2ER, 4H, 1BB, 5K.

That’d be a great start against any team, but ESPECIALLY the 2024 Atlanta Braves. Not only that, Steele had 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fourth, and fifth. His velocity was strong, he was mixing in more pitches than usual, etc. It was just a solid start overall.

Or, well, it would have been.

Instead, Steele came out for the seventh, and it fell apart (mostly after he left).

The Braves kicked off their six-run outburst with leadoff double (Orlando Arcia, of course). And then with one out, Adam Duvall was hit by a pitch. After that, a squeeze bunt (Zack Short, also of course) drove in the third run of the game, chasing Steele, who was still responsible for those two base runners – which, again, reached on a flukey HBP and a squeeze bunt the Cubs couldn’t convert into an out.

Jose Cuas came in to relieve Steele … and immediately gave up a sac fly and then a three-run homer. And then another homer after that. It was ugly. And unsurprising.

Why did Steele come back out? Why was Cuas the guy to relieve him? If I had to guess, Craig Counsell thought this was going to be a pretty hard one to come back from even down a couple runs, because Max Fried was CARVING UP the Cubs – in fact, he was perfect through 5.0 innings tonight.

So with that in mind – plus a bullpen day scheduled tomorrow – Counsell rolled the dice … twice. First, he trotted Steele back out there, when it would have been perfectly reasonable to end his night on a high note. And when that didn’t work, and the lead grew even deeper, he went to his most “throw-away” arm, Cuas. Cuas was either going to get lucky and get out of it, giving the Cubs a chance. Or he wasn’t and Counsell didn’t “waste” an arm that will otherwise be needed tomorrow in a game the Cubs still have a chance to win.

Plus, last night, the Cubs used Tyson Miller, Mark Leiter Jr., Hayden Wesneski, Hector Neris, and Luke Little. So, again, with the bullpen day tomorrow, Counsell’s options were limited.

But ultimately, it all mattered very little, as Max Fried was the latest in a long line of really dominant starting pitchers really dominating the Chicago Cubs offense. In addition to taking a perfect game into the sixth, he finished this one for his second complete game of the year: 9.0 IP, 3H, 1ER, 0BB, 9K

But if you take anything home with you tonight, let it be the Justin Steele silver lining. I think he looked plenty good, with almost exclusively external circumstances messing with his final line.

Oh, before we turn the page on this one, I almost forgot: The Ankin Law “Making it Personal” Player of the Game goes to Porter Hodge, who made his Major League debut with a 1-2-3 inning, featuring three strikeouts. Very good stuff, young man. More of that, please.

The Cubs have now played five games against the Braves this season, if they win tomorrow, they’ll split the season series 3-3. That would be a perfectly fine outcome against one of the best teams in the league.

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