16 Nov

he’s the one

At one point this past season, Justin Steele looked like a frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. The former George County High star missed some time with an injury, had a few wobbles down the stretch and ultimately finished fifth in the voting revealed on Wednesday. Any disappointment he might have felt surely was assuaged by the $1 million bonus he received for that rank. Steele, a 28-year-old left-hander, went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 starts in his third MLB campaign with the Chicago Cubs. He made the All-Star Game and threw a scoreless inning. He was one of the main reasons the Cubs stayed in the hunt in the NL wild card chase until the bitter end. For all those efforts, Steele is the 2023 winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the top performer among Mississippians (natives or school alums) in the big leagues. Steele, a Lucedale native, was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2014, persevered through injuries and finally made The Show in 2021. Now a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation, he gets the nod for the Bell over DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, the 2022 winner who had another big year for Atlanta.

04 Sep

come monday

This was so cool. Watching Lucedale native Justin Steele, the Chicago Cubs ace, mow down the San Francisco Giants today on MLB Network and this happened: After Steele punched out the last batter in the top of the seventh inning to roars at Wrigley Field, the Cubs played a video of the late, great Jimmy Buffett, another Mississippi native, singing the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” anthem from the press box during a game in 1998. Wearing Harry Caray-replica glasses, Buffett punctuated his rendition with Caray’s pet phrase “Let’s get some runs.” And, of course, the Cubs did, scoring twice in the seventh to take a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-0 win. Only baseball, it seems, can deliver moments like this. For the record, Steele went eight, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out a career-high 12 and running his record to 16-3.

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

24 Jun

across the pond

In the familiar confines of Wrigley Field and other major league parks, Justin Steele has been good, perhaps All-Star good. Today, the former George County High star enters a great unknown, London Stadium, when he takes the mound for the Chicago Cubs against St. Louis in the opener of the London Series. He’ll be opposed by the savvy veteran Adam Wainwright, but don’t expect a pitchers’ duel. The stadium dimensions have been increased by a few feet since 2019, when the New York Yankees and Boston hit 10 home runs and scored 50 runs in a pair of games in the inaugural London Series. But it’s still likely to play as a hitter’s park. Steele is 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP this season; he is 5-1, 2.57, at Wrigley, which tends to favor hitters. The left-hander from Lucedale went five innings (yielding two runs on a late homer) against Baltimore on June 17 in his first start off the 15-day injured list. Several Cardinals batters have good numbers against Steele: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman are a combined 10-for-25 with a homer (by Goldschmidt). … Also in London is Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout who works out of the St. Louis bullpen. He has a 4.30 ERA in 27 games for the scuffling Cardinals, who are last (31-44) in the National League Central. The Cubs are third at 36-38.

18 Jun

nice comebacks

In his first outing in 17 days, after an impatient stay on the injured list, Justin Steele carved up the Baltimore Orioles for the better part of five innings Saturday and earned his seventh win of the year for the Chicago Cubs. “Good to be back on the saddle,” the ex-George County High star said on Twitter. Indeed. Steele went on the IL on May 31 with left forearm tightness. He said in an mlb.com article that the tightness subsided quickly and he felt fine during the IL stint, eager to get back on the bump. “I was never worried about it,” he said. At Wrigley Field on MLB Network on Saturday, he blanked the Orioles for 4 2/3 innings before an Adley Rutschman homer tied the score at 2-2. Steele got the last out of the fifth, the Cubs went ahead in the bottom half and held on for a 3-2 win. Steele, who threw 74 pitches, improved to 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA, third-best in the National League. … Kansas City rallied from a late 8-2 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Angels 10-9 on Saturday, saving Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers from another humbling defeat. Mayers, making his sixth appearance and second start since being brought up from Triple-A, allowed six runs (three homers) in five-plus innings. Mayers is 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA. The veteran right-hander, who signed as a minor league free agent with the Royals in the off-season, has allowed 16 runs in his last three appearances and took L’s in the previous two. His roster status might be shaky. P.S. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College standout, left the White Sox’s game with a shoulder injury. Dropped from the top spot in the order to No. 2, he was 0-for-1 with a walk before his exit. His replacement in the lineup, rookie Zach Remillard, went 3-for-3 and drove in the winning run in Chicago’s 4-3, 11-inning victory over Seattle.

26 Apr


The current list of National League ERA leaders includes an array of familiar names, from Clayton Kershaw to Marcus Stroman to Atlanta sensation Spencer Strider. But the leader of this pack is a left-hander from Mississippi who is having a breakout season. Justin Steele, former George County High standout, trimmed his ERA to a 1.19 by throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 win against San Diego at frigid Wrigley Field. Steele is 4-0 — tied for the NL lead in wins — over five starts with victories against the Padres, Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. “I’ve just been trying my hardest to be consistent …,” Steele said in an Associated Press article. He has gone at least 5 1/3 in each of his starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of them. His WHIP is 0.89. Drafted out of high school in 2014 (fifth round) by the Cubs, Steele battled through injuries before finally reaching the majors in 2021. He moved into the Cubs’ rotation last year and went 4-7, 3.18, in 24 outings. That effort appears to have been just a tease about what was to come.

15 Apr

not to be overlooked

The return of Seiya Suzuki to the lineup and the return of Cody Bellinger to Dodger Stadium generated much of the buzz for the Chicago Cubs on Friday night. But when the game was done, Justin Steele deserved his share. The former George County High star shackled the Los Angeles Dodgers over seven innings as the Cubs took an 8-2 victory. “Steely looked phenomenal, really pounded the zone. Thought he was dominant,” Cubs manager David Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times. Steele allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out eight. “I was just sticking to my strengths,” said Steele, who commanded his four-seamer and slider well all night. The left-hander improved to 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts. Now entering his fourth MLB season, Steele (career ERA: 3.32) is an emerging ace for the Cubs as they look to contend in the National League Central. … Also earning shout-outs in MLB: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who hit career home run No. 100 (in his 464th game) as Atlanta pounded Kansas City. Riley’s third homer of the season was one of five the first-place Braves hit at Kauffman Stadium. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe drove in three runs and extended his hit streak to nine games to help first-place Texas take down Houston in an American League West clash. Lowe has 13 RBIs, tied for sixth in the AL.

04 Mar

that’ll work

Justin Steele’s spring debut was pushed back a few days because he was feeling some fatigue in his left arm. The former George County High star appeared to have plenty of zip in that wing on Friday night, when he threw two perfect innings as the front man in the Chicago Cubs’ seven-man no-hitter against San Diego. In a Cactus League game televised on MLB Network, Steele breezed — 18 pitches — through a Padres lineup that included Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. After doing an in-game interview from the dugout, the 27-year-old lefty threw 25 more pitches in the bullpen. “Their lineup is going to be really good,” Steele said of the Padres in an mlb.com story. “It’s good to get out there and compete again.” In his second MLB season in 2022, Steele went 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts for a sub-.500 Cubs team. He reportedly worked long hours in the off-season adding a change-up (which he didn’t have to roll out Friday) to his arsenal. Steele slots in as perhaps the No. 3 starter for a Chicago team that spent some big money in the off-season to make a postseason push. “He’s one of the guys we’re gonna rely heavily on,” Cubs manager David Ross told mlb.com. P.S. Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 4-rated prospect (per MLB Pipeline), hit his first career spring homer on Friday in a Grapefruit League contest against Philadelphia. Keith, a non-roster invitee in Tigers camp, hit .301 with nine homers in High-Class A last season, his second as a pro.

05 Jul

coming up empty

Practically perfect for four innings and pretty darn good deep into the seventh, Justin Steele had the Chicago Cubs in position to win on Monday. Alas, they did not. Trying to hold a 1-0 lead, the Lucedale native gave up a run with two outs in the seventh and left the game. He had allowed just two hits, four walks and fanned nine. The Cubs would go on to lose to National League Central leader Milwaukee 5-2 in 10 innings. Steele got a no-decision, his eighth in 16 starts. It’s been that kind of year for Steele and the fourth-place Cubs (32-48). After a rough start to his second big league campaign — he was 1-5 with a 5.32 ERA through May — the 26-year-old left-hander has been sharp over his last seven starts, posting a 3.03 ERA. But he has just two wins in that stretch and is 3-5, 4.13, on the season. Drafted in Round 5 in 2014 out of George County High, injuries stalled Steele’s progress in the minors. The Cubs, world champs in 2016, were falling into rebuild mode by the time Steele arrived in April of 2021. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Steele utilizes a four-pitch mix and typically avoids hard contact, having yielded just five homers in 76 1/3 innings in 2022. His work since early June — after getting some tips from ex-Cubs star Jon Lester — would seem to have solidified his role in the Cubs’ future plans. P.S. Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe reportedly has resumed baseball activities and is close to returning to Milwaukee’s active roster. The ex-Mississippi State star has been on the injured list (calf) since June 23.

09 May

fun while it lasted

On paper, it was a mismatch. On the field, for three innings at least, it was not. George County High product Justin Steele, making just the 15th start of his big league career, cruised into the fourth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field with a 1-0 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Walker Buehler. A wonky fourth — two infield hits, two walks, a wild pitch — cost Steele and the Chicago Cubs the lead, and the young left-hander couldn’t answer the bell for the fifth, departing with a thumb injury after his warmup tosses. The Dodgers, with Buehler going seven innings, won the game 7-1. Buehler entered the game, his 100th career start, with a 3-1 record and a 2.12 ERA. Steele was 1-3, 5.50, winless since beating Milwaukee (and fellow Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff) in his first start of 2022. Originally set for a Monday start, Steele found out only hours before ESPN’s Sunday night feature that he’d be getting the ball against the National League’s best team, the one with three MVPs in the lineup. He struck out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to start the game and yielded just a lone hit (to Cody Bellinger) through three. The wheels started to come off in the fourth. Steele, 26, battled long and hard — eight years — to reach the big leagues in 2021. He’s now battling to nail down a role with a rebuilding Cubs club, and there certainly have been encouraging signs. P.S. Two other Mississippians made Mother’s Day starts and experienced mixed results. Konnor Pilkington, former Mississippi State standout, made his first career start — fourth appearance — for Cleveland and lasted 3 2/3 innings (two runs allowed) in a game the Guardians won 4-3 against Toronto. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, having an erratic season for St. Louis, went four innings, yielding five hits, four walks and three runs in a game the Cardinals lost 4-3 to San Francisco.