Cubs

Where would Jose Quintana fit in a Cubs playoff rotation?

Where would Jose Quintana fit in a Cubs playoff rotation?

PITTSBURGH – The Jose Quintana trade became a way for the Cubs to protect themselves if – or probably when – Jake Arrieta signs a free-agent megadeal somewhere else. Shipping two top prospects to the White Sox became a play for 2018, 2019 and 2020 more than trying to save this season.

But the pressure on Quintana – who has never thrown a playoff pitch before – will only increase now that Arrieta is potentially sidelined for at least two starts with a strained hamstring in the right leg that generates so much power in his crossfire delivery.

Quintana responded during Wednesday’s 1-0 win at PNC Park, matching zeroes with Gerrit Cole for six innings on a night where the Pittsburgh Pirates ace had no-hit stuff.

Quintana’s ups and downs – combined with a full recovery for Arrieta, no Jon Lester health scares, Kyle Hendricks getting back into a groove and John Lackey looking ready for Big Boy Games – should create some interesting playoff-rotation decisions if the Cubs don’t blow their 4.5-game lead in the National League Central.  

“I would not use the phrase, ‘He has to show us anything,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just think it’s probably packaging his stuff, using the curveball more, the changeup a little more often, and then just locating his fastball more consistently.

“He’s in good shape right now. He’s very excited about being in this moment. There’s no question about that. But there’s nothing for him to prove to us right now. I have not looked at it that way at all. I think he’s really good.”

[MORE: Why Anthony Rizzo has so much confidence in the 2017 Cubs

Quintana became the stopper the Cubs (76-63) needed, helping snap a three-game losing streak by limiting the Pirates (67-73) to six singles and one walk while notching six strikeouts. Quintana (4.03 ERA) has put up seven quality starts – and the Cubs have won six games – in his 10 outings since the crosstown trade.   

“I’ve never been given the opportunity, and I feel really good to be here and be close to the playoffs,” Quintana said. “We don’t win (anything) yet. We’re trying to continue in this race – every single day – and win games like that. It’s high confidence now, and just keep going.”     

General manager Jed Hoyer had a great answer last week when asked whether Lester or Arrieta should start a Game 1, likely matching up against two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals: “I don’t think we deserve to be able to think about that at this point.”   

The larger point is that the Cubs will need Quintana and waves of pitching – now and in the future – to become the gold-standard franchise they aspire to be.   

“I think (the idea of) the one ace and hope you win a couple other games doesn’t really work, or it doesn’t work very often,” Hoyer said. “Having a deep pitching staff is what works.”

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”