Cubs

After saving the season, will Jose Quintana be the game-changer for Cubs in NLCS?

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USA TODAY

After saving the season, will Jose Quintana be the game-changer for Cubs in NLCS?

WASHINGTON – Jose Quintana stood a few steps over from the exact spot where ex-catcher Miguel Montero ended his Cubs career, going viral with a rant that blamed Jake Arrieta and the coaching staff for letting Washington leadoff guy Trea Turner run wild.

This time, plastic sheets covered all the lockers inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, the drunken dancing and cigar smoke early Friday morning such a drastic change from how quiet the low-energy Cubs felt in late June.    

Quintana already helped save a team that appeared to be close to imploding when Theo Epstein’s front office made that blockbuster trade with the White Sox during the All-Star break.

Quintana delivered again in the National League Division Series, allowing only one unearned run in a Game 3 where Max Scherzer would take a no-hitter into the seventh inning and the Cubs would somehow scrape together a 2-1 win.  

Quintana got two outs in the all-hands-on-deck Game 5, throwing 12 pitches before All-Star closer Wade Davis took over in the seventh inning and understood no one else would be warming up behind him in the bullpen.  

Quintana is too humble and respectful to demand that the Cubs give him the ball in Game 1 opposite Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, but the lefty knows how he feels about the NL Championship Series.

“I’m ready to go, man,” Quintana said after a heart-pounding 9-8 win that began Thursday night and ended Friday morning in Washington. “Why not? Let’s go. Keep going.”

The Cubs started rolling when Quintana joined a 43-45 team on July 14 in Baltimore, watching him dominate the Orioles two days later (seven scoreless innings, 12 strikeouts, zero walks) and closing a 5.5-game deficit on the Brewers within the week. The Cubs would spend every day in first place in August and September while Quintana (7-3, 3.74 ERA in 14 starts) gave the team a sense of consistency and enjoyed his first real exposure to a pennant race.  

“Timing is everything,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “Like I’m going to continue to say throughout my time here in Chicago, our ownership and front office, they mean what they say. We want to win every year. We want an opportunity to win a World Series every year. 

“Like I said when that trade happened, that’s what they showed. They followed through with their actions, and we followed suit.

“The biggest thing I’m proud of with this group of people here that joined us is we all rise to every challenge and look it right in the eye and have fun with it. You don’t know how it’s going to work out. You don’t know the outcome. But we all rise to the challenge and take it on.”    

The Dodgers will not be an easy team to beat four times in a seven-game series, especially with manager Joe Maddon running out of guys he trusts in the bullpen and the rotation in suboptimal condition after a draining battle against the Nationals.

Maddon said John Lackey is also in the conversation for Game 1 starter. But a moment like this is exactly why the Cubs gave up top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for a 28-year-old pitcher who is under club control through the 2020 season for a little more than $30 million.

“The timing was certainly (unique),” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We were struggling. It was negative. But in some ways – Theo and I talked about this at the time – this is a deal that if it had come up in May or July or in December (was) exactly what we’ve been trying to find in a young, talented, controllable starter.

“There was a level of frustration, which is natural. We look out on the field and you see all this talent and we’re two games under .500 and really been inconsistent the whole time.

“This guy exactly fit what we were looking to acquire. This timing was interesting. But at the same time, I don’t think the timing would have mattered.”

For someone who had never played in the postseason before, Quintana just got a crash course in how exhilarating, frustrating and unpredictable it can be.

“It’s amazing,” Quintana said. “Sometimes it’s crazy how these guys play that baseball – behind 4-1 in the second inning and we come back in the game right away. It’s amazing, that energy we need for the playoffs. I’m really happy to be a part of this team.”

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: