There aren’t many bright spots for the Cubs right now, but Frank Schwindel has been a goshdarn lighthouse for a team that might otherwise have run aground. I mean, yeah, I guess they already capsized and washed ashore, but he’s doing his damndest to save as many survivors as he can.
The unlikely slugger blasted a three-run shot to provide all the offense in the game to help Justin Steele earn his first victory as a starter. Steele looked to be throwing his sinker more frequently, finding success with it up in the zone as has been the trend for Tommy Hottovy‘s pitchers not named Jake Arrieta. Though he was far from perfect on the evening, allowing one hit over five innings is a good way to keep the other team off the board.
It’s also typically a way to be considered the best pitcher of the contest, unless of course the man who takes over buzzsaws through four innings with 40 pitches and also allows just one hit of his own. Plus, Adbert Alzolay struck out five with no walks where Steele struck out and walked three apiece. It was a rare four-inning save for Alzolay, who may be working in more of a piggyback role down the stretch.
The righty had the fastball touching 96 in his first stint back from the IL, which isn’t surprising given the rest and the ability to empty the tank as a reliever. The Cubs needed that solid pitching because they had just four hits in the game, only one of which came after their three-run 3rd inning, but that big schwing from the DH created enough room to make it comfortable. (Box score)
Why the Cubs Won
Allowing just two hits was great, but getting 12 outs on the ground in addition to eight strikeouts was huge. Steele had been getting himself into jams that proved too costly to overcome in previous starts, often compounding mistakes by leaving strikes over the plate to get tagged. It looked like that could have been the case in this one when he opened the 2nd with a five-pitch walk and then hit the next batter with an 0-2 slider.
Rather than getting timid, the lefty struck out the next batter on three pitches — the last of which was a slider in the dirt — and induced a double play to end the inning unscathed. The way he changed up his routine offered proof that he might yet have a future in the rotation.
It has to be the tank from Schwindel, who is now batting .306 with eight homers and a 148 wRC+ on the season. He’s hit a dinger in three consecutive games and his production since coming up on Deadline Day has many thinking he might just be more than a goofy look for the camera every time he finds it in the dugout.
Stats That Matter
- Steele threw 86 pitches and looked much more efficient: 5 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 3 BB, 3 K.
- Alzolay was even more efficient with just 40 pitches: 4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 5 K.
- Schwindel was 1-for-4 with that dong and now has a .944 OPS on the season.
- Ian Happ went 1-for-4 to get his average back to .200 on the nose.
The Cubs are still pretty bad, but they managed to pass the Tlosses in the standings to fall back to eighth in next summer’s draft and it sure does feel like they’ve got some dudes who want to win. As difficult as it is to see any real way forward with a bunch of players either at the tail end of their 20’s or already into their fourth decade of life, guys like Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom, and Rafael Ortega are certainly fun to root for.
The Cubs welcome the Pirates to Wrigley for a four-game set that could well see that fifth pick falling further away. Keegan Thompson gets the ball against Mitch Keller Thursday night in the only evening affair of the series, which should feature a lot of players you’ve never heard of. Game 1 is at 7:05pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.
In a fun twist, the two team’s Triple-A affiliates are also playing one another in Indianapolis this week. I’ll be at Victory Field Friday and Saturday, so come on over and buy me a beer if you’re so inclined. Maybe I’ll even buy you one in return.