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.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”