Cubs vs. Rays: Series Thread (Games 53-55)
The Cubs have three games to turn around a 2-4 homestand. They suffered a three game sweep at the hands of the Reds and are now joined at Wrigley by the 39-16 Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays sit atop a strong AL East and hold the best record in baseball. The Cubs currently find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, falling to last in the NL Central and holding a record better than only the farcical Oakland Athletics. They remain, however, only 5.5 back in the division. See below for matchups.
Game 53, Monday, May 29, 1:20 pm central
TBR: RHP Taj Bradley (3-1, 4.44 ERA)
CHC: RHP Marcus Stroman (4-4, 2.95 ERA)
A former 5th round pick in the 2018 draft, Taj Bradley is five starts into his rookie campaign. He features a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider and commands his pitches well. He's had solid results so far, and his peripherals suggest there's better still to come.
Stroman has been off to a strong start in all categories excepting run support so far. He could be on track for a career year of his current trends continue. He went eight innings against the Meta to earn his fourth win his last time out, the longest start by a Cub this season, just barely edging Smyly's bid for a perfect game.
Game 54, Tuesday, May 30, 7:05 pm central
TBR: LHP Shane McClanahan (8-0, 1.97 ERA)
CHC: RHP Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 6.23 ERA)
The 26-year-old McLanahan has been excellent since making his MLB debut in 2021. He mixes a high-90s fastball with one of the best curveball in the majors, a frequently used split-change, and a slider.
Hendricks made a long-awaited return from the IL against the Meta, taking a loss in his 2023 debut. He looked healthy, however, reaching the high 80s fastball velocity that is his norm and throwing plenty of first pitch strikes.
Game 55, Wednesday, May 31, 1:20 pm central
TBR: RHP Zach Eflin (7-1, 3.17 ERA)
CHC: LHP Justin Steele (6-2, 2.77 ERA)
Eflin spent his first 7 MLB seasons as a back of the rotation starter with the Phillies. He's have a better than expected start to the season, thanks partly to an increased rate of contact on the ground while maintaining his usual low walk rate. The Rays are getting a lot of mileage out of him so far as he's gone seven innings deep three times and has yet to be pulled before finishing five.
Steele got off to a ridiculously clean start to 2023, improving on his already great second half of 2022. He took a loss in 3.1 innings last time out, the first start of the season in which he failed to reach the sixth inning. His zero walks and zero homers allowed in the start comprise the silver lining of the outing. A fair portion of the 10 hits he allowed were off the soft-hit variety as well. However, per statcast he still allowed 9 hard hit balls, the most of any of his outings this season and all allowed while collecting his fewest outs thus far. For May only he's posted a 4.40 ERA and seen his strikeout rate dip to 7.85 per nine innings.