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.”

David Bote's unique perspective on the rise of the Cubs

David Bote's unique perspective on the rise of the Cubs

CLEVELAND — David Bote hugged and high-fived so many people he didn't even know.

In other words, he was just like every other Cubs fan.

Bote has been here since the beginning — an 18th round pick in 2012, Theo Epstein's first draft with the Cubs front office.

You better believe Bote was there at the end, too.

He sat down the right field line in Game 5 of the 2016 World Series, cheering on a gaggle of former teammates and a bunch of guys he had never played with.

Bote understands the family dynamic fans experience at Wrigley Field, celebrating with people he'd never speak to again.

And all along, he never told them who he was or that he had played with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. in the minors.

Bote is a Colorado native who got the call to the big leagues last weekend when Ben Zobrist went on the disabled list and played his first game in front of family and friends at Coors Field. To make it even sweeter, Bote doubled in his first MLB at-bat.

"I thought [Rockies CF Charlies] Blackmon was gonna catch it," Bote said. "I saw him kinda coastin' to it and I was like, 'No way you're about to catch this.' And then I realized he was playing it off the wall.

"I got to second base and turned around, all 24 of those guys are standing up on the top step, raising their hands, giving me the peace sign. I don't want to say it was a relief, but it's more of kinda like that jittery feeling of 'That was pretty sweet.'" 

Bote, 25, understands he's not up here to play a huge role — he's only recorded 5 trips to the plate in 4 games — but he knows the 2018 Cubs have a World Series or bust mindset and he wants to do all he can to get the team there once again.

He's never been considered a top prospect and played all over the field in the Cubs minor-league system — every position but catcher and center field (yes, he's even pitched 7 innings) — and realizes how hard it is for a utility guy to even make it to the majors.

"It's crazy because coming from where I have in my baseball career as a guy who's been bounced around or not looked at as what people say as an organizational player," Bote said. "Obviously the Cubs had belief in me and I've had belief in myself too of making it here and blocking out the outside noise.

"It was tough at times. And then to make your debut and play in the big leagues and then to be with these guys and be competing at the highest level for the highest prize in the game is something I can't even put into words.

"I'm super grateful, humbled and blessed to have been part of it and to make it and to be here with this club especially is a very humbling experience."

Bote has been at Wrigley a bunch, including the World Series contest plus Game 2 of the 2016 NLDS — where he celebrated Travis Wood's homer — as well as a memorable regular-season game in July 2015. The kid sitting in front of Bote was crying after the Cubs blew a lead and surrendered four runs to the Colorado Rockies in the top of the ninth inning on that July 27th evening. To help ease his pain, Bote told the kid they were about to witness a Kris Bryant walk-off...which is exactly what happened.

But for all the times he's been to Wrigley as a fan, Bote has never once stepped foot on the hallowed ground of the diamond.

That will change Thursday when he will finally get an opportunity to experience it as a player in those historic pinstripes and blue "C".

And you better believe Bote's got that day circled on his calendar:

"There's no better place on Earth."

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

Ten years ago today, Reed Johnson had one of the best catches in a Cubs uniform.

On April 26, 2008, the Cubs outfielder made a spectacular diving catch off of Nationals' Felipe Lopez's liner to center field. Johnson had to run to his right in what felt like a mile to track down. He then dove for it on the warning track going head first into the wall. Remember this?

How he caught it? Not sure. And how he didn't get hurt? Don't know that either.

But a lot of members on the Cubs at the time raved about the catch (Len Kasper's call was also phenomenal), and joked that they're happy it didn't happen on W. Addison St.

"At Wrigley Field they might have had to call a timeout to find his head in the vines," manager Lou Piniella said after that game.

There have been some outstanding catches since that catch in 2008. Jason Heyward's diving grab in San Francisco, Javier Baez's catch against the Miami Marlins where he dove into the crowd, Anthony Rizzo's tarp catches. There are a handful of them. 

But where does this one rank?