Cubs

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

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USA TODAY

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are going to destroy Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. The rivalry has fundamentally shifted to the point where the St. Louis Cardinals are hanging around the National League’s wild-card race in a transition year and it would have been a massive failure if the defending World Series champs didn’t win this division. But there will be some symbolism to popping champagne bottles and spraying beer all over that room.

“We intend to clinch there,” Ben Zobrist said after Jose Quintana’s complete-game masterpiece in Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

Quintana has only been a Cub since the Brewers failed to close a deal with the White Sox and team president Theo Epstein swooped in to make a signature trade during the All-Star break. Quintana hasn’t yet pitched in the playoffs, but this is close enough, the Cubs winning back-to-back 10-inning games against the Brewers and shaking off a walk-off loss before the lefty faced off against Chase Anderson in front of a sellout crowd of 42,212.

Quintana gave the Cubs more data points to consider as they prepare for a probable first-round series against the Washington Nationals. The magic number to eliminate both the Brewers and Cardinals is two, with Milwaukee off on Monday and the Cubs playing a rivalry game in St. Louis that night, meaning the party goggles won’t come out until Tuesday at the earliest.

“It’s the playoffs already for this team,” said Zobrist, who again looked like a World Series MVP in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game when he launched Anderson’s first-pitch fastball into the second deck in right field for a two-run, breathing-room homer. “We’re already thinking that way.

“We’re in postseason mode right now. And we intend to continue that for the next month.”

While there are valid concerns about Jon Lester’s nosedive in performance since coming off the disabled list and the state of Jake Arrieta’s right hamstring, the focus should also be on how Quintana (7-3, 3.50 ERA in 13 starts as a Cub) could be an October game-changer for this rotation.

“Once he got over here, he was really jacked up about having a chance to play in the playoffs,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s showing you that right now. Games like that, to me, could be kind of career-altering for a pitcher.

“When you pitch a complete-game shutout on the road under these circumstances, that definitely does something for your interior. It definitely fluffs it up a little bit.”

“It’s exciting to be here,” said Quintana, who allowed only three singles, piled up 10 strikeouts against one walk and hit 93 mph on his 116th and final pitch in the ninth inning. “I just try to help my team and it’s really special when you get that opportunity. It’s about winning and I have a huge opportunity here.”

In all phases of the game – dominant starting pitching, an offense that created different ways to score runs, multiple bullpen contributors and an airtight defense that committed zero errors in 39 innings – Maddon saw what he was looking for: “We reacted in a playoff manner for these four games. Our mental intensity could not be beat.”

That drifting, in-and-out focus had been part of the background when the Cubs shocked the baseball world with the Quintana trade in the middle of July. Concentration won’t be an issue at Busch Stadium. And this hangover will be real.

“It will be nice to do it there, I’ll just say that,” said Zobrist, who understands the Cubs-Cardinals dynamic as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. “But we got to win the games.

“As John Lackey said it before (this) series: ‘This is not a small series, boys.’ We knew it was a big one here in Milwaukee. And it will be another big one in St. Louis.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Everyone wants to know when the Cubs are going to add another starting pitcher. Fewer folks want to talk about the one they've already signed this offseason.

Kyle Hendricks, though, is happy to talk about Tyler Chatwood.

Chatwood might not be a big name like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb, and the former Colorado Rockie wasn't brought on to fill the Arrieta-sized hole in the Cubs' rotation, instead projected to slide behind the current top three of Jon Lester, Hendricks and Jose Quintana.

But whether he's the fourth starter or the fifth starter — depending on what kind of starting pitcher the Cubs add to the roster before spring training — how Chatwood performs could go a long way in determining what kind of season it is for the Cubs.

Hendricks, talking Friday during the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, thinks Chatwood will thrive on the North Side.

"Chatwood, I think, is going to be really big for us," Hendricks said. "We grew up in the same area, so I played summer baseball with him senior year, and he wasn't even pitching then, he was a shortstop, great hitter. But he's just a baseball guy, baseball mind, and that's kind of what this team's about. It's a bunch of guys who love playing the game, love being together. I think he's going to fit in great, personality-wise.

"And the stuff he has, I know it's going to play really well. He's only had a couple starts at Wrigley, but he's obviously pitched well there. That's going to bode well for him in the future. And being able to pick guys' brains, like Lester and these older guys that have been around. I think they're going to help him like they've helped me."

Depending on how much they trust Hendricks' scouting eye, that might ease the concerns of Cubs fans nervous about the prospect of replacing Arrieta and John Lackey with Chatwood and Mike Montgomery in the starting rotation. Last season, Chatwood's 15 losses were the most in the National League, and he finished the season with a 4.69 ERA. But the numbers were dramatically different thanks to Coors Field being his home ballpark. In Denver, his ERA was 6.01. On the road, it was a far more respectable 3.49.

"It's not easy. I'll leave it at that, it's not easy," Chatwood said Friday of pitching in the Mile High City. "I enjoyed my time there, but I'm excited to be here."

As Hendricks mentioned, Chatwood's transition to Wrigley seems promising. Chatwood has started a pair of games on the North Side and fared really well, surrendering just one run with 11 strikeouts in his 13 innings of work.

The Cubs have made it to three straight NL Championship Series — and won that curse-smashing World Series championship in 2016 — thanks to elite starting pitching. Arrieta was the Cy Young winner in 2015. Lester and Hendricks were Cy Young finalists in 2016. And Quintana has extraordinary promise if he can replicate what he did on the South Side in a Cubs uniform. If Arrieta lands anywhere but the North Side by the time this slow-moving offseason finally wraps up, Chatwood will be leaned on to help keep the Cubs' starting staff among the most formidable in the game. If he does, then 2018 could end like 2016 did. And that's what Chatwood wants.

"Obviously it's a great organization and a great team that I want to be a part of. I want to be on a winning team, so it was a pretty easy decision," Chatwood said. "I want to win one of those and be a part of that parade they had two years ago. I'm excited and hoping we've got a chance to do that."