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.”
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.”