Cubs

Regardless of when he gets the ball in NLDS, Jose Quintana is living out his dream with Cubs

Regardless of when he gets the ball in NLDS, Jose Quintana is living out his dream with Cubs

Nobody has to tell Jose Quintana to take time to stop and smell the roses.

The 28-year-old southpaw is living his best life with the Cubs right now, making the playoffs for the first time in his six-year MLB career and ready to help his teammates with what he hopes is another march toward the World Series.

Quintana couldn't contain his glee in chatting with CSN's Kelly Crull after the Cubs clinching the National League Central title Wednesday night in St. Louis.

"I enjoy this," a champagne-and-beer-soaked Quintana said. "I want three more rounds [of celebration]. I'm so happy and I'm gonna enjoy this moment. I'm living the dream; I'm so excited.'

Quintana has talked a lot over the last two months about how much he wanted to make the postseason for the first time and knows this could only be the start. He's under contract through 2020 and could spend the next three years pitching in front of all those young Cubs hitters with the championship window wide open.

But for right now, Quintana is content with where he is, finishing up his 2017 regular season Friday with 4.2 innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He retired the first 11 hitters he faced before running into some trouble in the fifth as a slew of groundballs found holes and led to four Cincinnati runs.

That followed the best start of Quintana's career, when he tossed a complete game, three-hit shutout against the Brewers in Milwaukee last Sunday, all but eliminating the Cubs' rivals from division contention. 

Even though he posted the highest ERA of his career (4.15), 2017 marks the fifth straight season Quintana has made at least 32 starts. He struck out a career high 207 batters in 188.2 innings and racked up 98 Ks in just 84.1 innings since being traded to the Cubs during the All-Star Break.

The Cubs have yet to announce their rotation for the National League Division Series showdown against the Washington Nationals, but they will toss Jake Arrieta and Quintana in a simulated game Wednesday at Wrigley Field. That likely indicates that duo will throw in some order in Games 3 and 4, leaving Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester to start the first two games in D.C.

While Quintana hasn't yet pitched in October in his MLB career, he got a little taste of the big atmosphere when he went up against a stacked U.S. lineup in the World Baseball Classic in March. Pitching for Colombia, Quintana held a lineup that featured Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey and Giancarlo Stanton hitless for 5.2 innings and left with the lead before eventually getting tagged with a no decision.

"Huge. I think that game against U.S. was like a playoff game," Quintana said. "Especially when you go out in the tournament showing." 

Quintana will stay ready in the 9-10 days between starts with the sim game and making sure he gets his time in the bullpens.

Whenever the Cubs call his number, he'll be waiting.

"I'm excited. I can't wait," Quintana said. "I'm gonna do my job. It's the first time I've gotten this opportunity, so it's really special."

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki about his new book on Joe Maddon. The trio also debate whether Maddon’s tactics get stale and how the new coaching staff will affect the season.

Plus, who should hit leadoff? Fans are all in on Albert Almora Jr., but that might not be the best option. And whose side do you take in the Willson Contreras-Yadier Molina tiff?

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018