Orioles swing into slump, out to evade Cubs’ sweep

Looking for their first four-game winning streak since April, the Chicago Cubs are in position to complete a series sweep of the host Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night.

Chicago held the Orioles to two runs in the first two games of the series and delivered an emphatic response to ridicule of the starting rotation in the process.

A 4-0 decision marked the sixth shutout victory of the season for the Cubs, who collectively have cooled the Orioles’ juggernaut offense for the first 18 innings of the series.

Caught in a rare slumber, the Orioles were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position Wednesday night, sparking a sense of pressing at the plate.

“I thought our swings were a little big,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “At times, we’re getting a little too big trying to get the big hit. I think it’s going to turn around for us. We just have to relax a little bit.”

The Cubs have won five of their last six games, posting two shutouts during that stretch, and numbers point to a pitcher’s duel in the series finale. Up next is a four-game set with the St. Louis Cardinals before the All-Star break.

The Cubs send left-hander Justin Steele (1-3, 2.95 ERA) back to the mound after he threw a two-hitter with seven strikeouts Friday against the Los Angeles Angels for his first career complete game.

“Something I’ve really wanted to do for a long time, so glad I got it,” Steele said.

Cubs infielder Miles Mastrobuoni said Steele’s impact extends beyond the mound.

“A guy that you just learn stuff from,” Mastrobuoni said. “Even as a position player, you just watch how he goes about his work.”

Chicago has won three of Steele’s last four starts but is 4-9 overall this season in games he starts.

Steele gained a 2023 home victory against the Orioles. He went five innings and allowed two hits – one of those Adley Rutschman’s two-run homer. In his only other matchup with Baltimore, he took a 2022 home loss, surrendering four runs, three earned, in six innings.

Right-hander Albert Suarez (5-2, 2.48 ERA) finds himself in the stopper role for the Orioles. He has won his past two starts, six-inning efforts against Texas and Oakland, issuing only one walk in 12 innings against the Rangers and A’s.

While pitching for the San Francisco Giants in 2016, Suarez faced the Cubs twice, going 0-1 and allowing two runs in eight total innings.

Hyde said the Cubs have been opportunistic this week.

“They’re finding some holes right now in the infield and in the outfield,” Hyde said. “Give them credit for putting the ball in play.”

Cubs outfielder Cody Bellinger was hit on his left hand by a 97-mph rising fastball from left-hander Cionel Perez in the seventh inning Wednesday night and came out of the game, leaving his status up in the air for Thursday.

“It’s his left middle finger, didn’t feel like he could throw a baseball,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re going to have to do some tests and figure out what’s going on.”

Bellinger said he wanted to ice the hand as soon as possible.

“A little swollen, a little bit of pain,” he said. “… I’ve learned that you’ve got to wait for the CT scan until you can make any opinions on it.”

–Field Level Media