blue eyed and scruffy cub The left-hander, who has been compared to world champion and former legend Jon Lester, is on the National League’s shortlist for Cy Young Award contenders. While being in the Cy conversation requires high praise for Chicago, the continued success of this slight 6-foot-2 starting pitcher means much more.

at age 28 Justin SteeleThe Cubs professed patience on the way to finding their late bloomer ace.

Steele was undrafted out of high school in 2014 and spent seven tumultuous years in the minor leagues before pursuing his career. mlb Debut with the Cubs as a reliever. Just two years later, the surgical southpaw was second in the NL in ERA (2.80), seventh in WHIP (1.17) and first in wins (14). His park-adjusted ERA+ of 163 leads the majors.

The total number of steel is equal to Arizona‘S zack gallen And San Diego‘S blake snell, but because of the name recognition, he did not receive much love from the industry at large and the national baseball audience. For fans outside of Wrigleyville, Steele is not yet a household name.

The Cubs don’t need Steele as a superstar to build a foundation around him. He has solid qualities that will positively shape Chicago’s future – with Steele serving as the ace. That future came even quicker this season as the Cubs went from a sub-.500 team to wild-card contenders, thanks in part to nerves of steel.

Opposing hitters can expect fastball after fastball from Steele — his 65.5% rate is ahead of MLB, a significant increase from his 56.4% mark last year — and he’s still able to dodge them, mainly because of his . Unique cut.

Following some midseason advice from Lester, who called Cubs manager David Ross in June with a helpful tip for Steele, the 2023 All-Star has steadily refined his four-seam fastball command. This made for significantly fewer sinkers and more sliders and fastballs in his repertoire.

He is 14-3 on the season. He has the second-best rate of home runs per nine innings in games (0.68), trailing only teammate Marcus Strowman, His 16 quality starts tied for third in the majors. Not bad for a starting pitcher who hasn’t yet entered his first mediocrity year.

Steele is battle-tested, due to his particularly long, and sometimes challenging, minor-league journey. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2017 at the age of 22 to repair his injured left elbow. After struggling in his Double-A return, he made some adjustments in 2020 as the minor-league season was canceled and returned with a 1.32 ERA in nine games (five starts) for Triple-A Iowa. Big league call up boosted – summer of 2021.

“It wasn’t a straight, straight line to the big leagues for me,” Steele said at this year’s All-Star Game in Seattle. “I spent seven years in the minors, got hurt, had ups and downs. For me, coming out of high school and all that, being a little kid, it meant a lot to me that I stuck it out, Never gave up, always believed in myself that I have finally reached here and I will pay off and live my dream.”

The Cubs extended that patience when Steele needed a few years to find his footing in the big leagues and develop into the dominant left-hander he is today. His slow pulse has made him a major league player who hasn’t yet wavered under the bright lights and the big stage. Chicago will need more of that icy nature in the playoff race.

Steele’s run will be interesting to track, partly because he has thrown more innings (132) than ever before. In a tight NL wild-card picture, the Cubs don’t have the luxury of being as clear as the division leaders Braves And dodgers Rest your aces before the crucial October spell.

Dansby Swanson, Jammer Candelario launch two-run HRs for the Cubs

In fact, the Cubs have desperately needed Steel these last five-plus weeks, especially since Strowman has been sidelined with an injury (right rib cartilage fracture) that has escalated in severity. Steele has been the top performer so far in the opening round – including the group Xavier Assad, kyle hendricks, jameson talon, drew smiley – He ranks seventh in the NL in ERA (4.46). cody bellinger And the Cubs’ offense has held up its end of the bargain, posting the NL’s fifth-best offense by OPS.

If Chicago can reach the playoffs, Steele would ideally take the ball for Game 1 of the opening series — and that goes beyond the numbers. Because he was a late bloomer, Steele remained in control of the team full-time until his age-32 season. Any pressure from a potential contract extension or free agency won’t penetrate his reality for a few years. And, even when it does, he’s already displayed a levelheaded attitude that shows none of it will be a distraction.

For now, the Cubs hope he can carry them into the playoffs. Should they fall short, as the famous Cubs say, there’s always next year. Only, until then Steele can have some hardware on the mantle. And Chicago would have even more reason to believe so.

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Thosar Village is an MLB writer for Fox Sports. He previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Disha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. follow him on twitter @DeeshaThosar,

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