Is Jose Quintana feeling pressure to live up to The Trade?

Is Jose Quintana feeling pressure to live up to The Trade?

Do you feel pressure to live up to The Trade?

“No, no,” Jose Quintana insisted late Wednesday night, surrounded by reporters at his locker inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse after a football-score win (17-3) over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Sometimes, with the bad innings, I feel frustrated, because I want to try to help more. But I’m just focusing (on what’s) next.”

This game looked like it might spin out of control for Quintana, creating more questions about his state of mind, what the Cubs were thinking with that blockbuster trade and how fragile the defending World Series champs could be in October.

Even if the Cubs made that shocking deal with the White Sox while projecting the 2018, 2019 and 2020 rotations, nothing will be guaranteed then, and right now the rest of the National League Central is either conceding the division race or hedging for the future.

The Cubs expect the boom-and-bust periods with their offense, understanding that they earned championship rings with a pitching-and-defense formula. After a rocky first inning that led to scattered boos from the crowd of 36,620, Quintana settled down against the Pirates, looking like someone who could someday front a postseason rotation.

“I feel comfortable here,” Quintana said. “All the coaches and teammates make it easy to be here. Sometimes, it’s new for me. I’ve never been in that (position before). But I feel really good here.

“The game never changes. It’s the same game. I’m here to do my job for one reason: I want to help this team and make the playoffs.”

That is still the biggest takeaway from a wacky night where Javier Baez showed off his new braids and stole home plate: “I went too early. I messed it up. And I don’t know if you call that fixing it, but it worked.” Ian Happ almost hit for the cycle and became the sixth Cub with 20 homers this season, setting a franchise record. Kyle Schwarber blasted two homers and called out Happ for sprinting to third base on a flyball to left field.

Quintana missed those fireworks as a hard-luck pitcher on bad White Sox teams, and it will be interesting to see how he responds in the heat of a pennant race. This is the trade-deadline parallel to Jon Lester signing a $155 million megadeal and needing an entire season to feel more comfortable, except Quintana didn’t ease into this at all with six weeks of spring training in Arizona.

“I think sometimes they apply a little bit of pressure to themselves to live up to the moment,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s just human nature. I think he’s still settling in. He’s such a wonderful young man and he’s so concerned. He wants to do well. But, listen, I know he’s going to be really good for a long period of time.

“We could talk about (how) curveball command hasn’t been as good, or maybe the changeup (wasn’t) utilized enough. But the fastball location hasn’t been what it had been. And that’s what you got to figure out: Why? Things like that are very correctable. Part of it might be just because I’m trying too hard. Sometimes it’s just simple as that.”

Coming off an ugly loss to a Philadelphia Phillies team racing to the bottom for the No. 1 overall pick, Quintana gave up three singles and drilled back-to-back hitters with pitches in the first inning, putting the Cubs in a 2-0 hole.

But from the moment Quintana’s pitch hit Jordy Mercer’s right foot and forced in a run, the lefty retired 14 batters in a row – until Josh Bell drove a ball toward the top of the left-field bleachers – and 16 of his last 17. Quintana – who’s now 5-3 with a 4.50 ERA through nine starts as a Cub – lasted six innings and finished with nine strikeouts and zero walks.

This wasn’t a prove-it start as much as a confidence boost for the pitcher who’s so crucial for a first-place team that’s up 3.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers.

“He’s just over-amped, man,” Maddon said. “This guy is still trying to make an impression for us and on us and with us. I just love his methods. He’s just such a professional. And hopefully that’s going to be kind of a catapult for him right there to get back into it."

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Washington Nationals

2017 record: 97-65, 1st place in NL East

Offseason additions: Miguel Montero, Matt Adams, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Reynolds, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Milone

Offseason departures: Adam Lind, Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, Jayson Werth, Matt Albers, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton

X-factor: The health of their stars

Health is an X-factor for any team, but it carries more weight in D.C. than anywhere else in baseball.

Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Stephen Strasburg are three of the Nationals' best players and yet three guys that can't seem to stay healthy for a full season. Couple that group with leadoff hitter Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy coming off knee injuries, the health questions are running rampant in Washington.

Those are the Nationals' projected Top 4 hitters and No. 2 starter. If they all stay healthy, they'll put up some whopping numbers. But if history repeats, it will make the road quite a bit tougher despite a weak NL East.

Projected lineup

1. Adam Eaton - LF
2. Trea Turner - SS
3. Bryce Harper - RF
4. Anthony Rendon - 3B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Howie Kendrick - 2B
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael Taylor - CF

Projected rotation

1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Tanner Roark
5. A.J. Cole


When healthy, this may be the most talented roster in the NL. Harper, Rendon, Murphy and Turner could all wind up as serious contenders in the 2018 MVP race while Scherzer and Strasburg figure to garner some Cy Young votes once again.

The Nationals also have the advantage of a pretty rough division, at least on paper. Three teams are rebuilding and the Mets haven't made the playoffs in a couple years now. Getting to play 18+ games against all four of those teams is a godsend.

Which is good news for a Nationals fanbase that is absolutely starving for some actual postseason success. Wade Davis and the Cubs knocked Washington out last fall and 2018 represents what figures to be the final chance to win it all (or even win A playoff series) with Harper before he gets a $400 million deal elsewhere (like Chicago??).

The 2018 Nationals have no holes. If any of their starters falter, they have Hellickson available. If any of their position players struggle, they have depth in the form of Kendrick (once Murphy is healthy), Montero, Adams, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin.

And the bullpen is very, very good thanks to a bunch of moves before the 2017 Trade Deadline and also have Benoit and Koda Glover expected to start the season on the DL.

The Nationals will be playing in October this year. But what they do in the postseason is a question that won't be answered for 6 months. 

Prediction: 1st in NL East, playoffs