Cubs

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3

He expected to be excitable and was early in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon. But Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana also managed to surprise himself in the process.

Even though a raucous Wrigley Field crowd provided him with more emotions than he’d ever experienced, Quintana’s pregame preparation and an abundance of first-pitch strikes helped calm him down.

The combination was more than enough to get Quintana going. Once he did, the 2016 All-Star pitcher found another gear and managed to exceed the perhaps unfair hype created by the midseason blockbuster trade that brought him to the Cubs from the White Sox in mid-July. Quintana allowed an unearned run and two hits in 5 2/3 innings and the Cubs rallied for a critical 2-1 victory over the Washington Nationals to take a 2-1 series lead.

“I was surprised at me being in control because sometimes we try to do too much,” Quintana said. “That happens. That’s part of baseball. But I enjoyed that time and we did a good pregame and all my stuff was good.”

Quintana has experienced a number of big moments throughout his career from the All-Star Game to the World Baseball Classic to last month’s pennant race.

But the left-hander had never faced the kind of test that only October baseball provides. Even he wondered before Sunday’s workout if he’d be amped up when he stepped on the mound.

As expected, he was.

Quintana said the reception from the Wrigley crowd was different than anything he’d experienced and was nervous. But aside from one pitch, manager Joe Maddon didn’t see much different in Quintana’s demeanor.

“He overboogied on the third pitch, that elevated fastball to (Trea) Turner,” Maddon said. “Otherwise he really controlled his emotions.”

Just as they planned, Quintana was aggressive against a powerful Nationals lineup and littered the zone with strikes. He threw nine strikes in 13 first-inning pitches, including all three first pitches, and induced three weak grounders. In all, Quintana threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 22 hitters.

[MORE: 5 biggest keys to Cubs' thrilling Game 3 win]

And that was all he needed to keep pace with Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

“When he’s throwing strikes, it’s tough to get on him,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “Any time you hit those spots and he’s throwing strikes and mixing it up as well as he was, getting some swings and misses, you know he’s on.”

Not only did Quintana hit his spots, he had great stuff with 14 swings and misses among his 96 pitches, including six with his curveball. That led to seven strikeouts and only walk.

The combination of stuff, hitting spots and thorough trust of the gameplan provided Quintana with enough to navigate the Washington lineup with little trouble.

“He has a lot of conviction in what he’s doing,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “You can see it in his eyes. He prepared himself before the game, a few days before the game. That’s a good thing for us.”

“He was amazing. We did everything he wanted. He was cool, had a good pace. He slowed it down a lot. That was a huge key for us.”

Contreras said Quintana was in such a rhythm that he didn’t want to bother him on the bench because Quintana was so dialed into the game. About the only thing that did bother Quintana was a pair of third-inning errors that jeopardized the scoreless contest. With two outs, a Zobrist error extended a rally, putting runners on the corners. Quintana missed on the next two pitches to Anthony Rendon, but got him to fly out to deep right-center.

Quintana only got stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the fifth. He threw a curve in the dirt to get Harper swinging to start the sixth. Rendon grounded out weakly and Quintana would have gotten through six if Kyle Schwarber didn’t drop Daniel Murphy’s lazy fly to left, one of four Cubs errors.

Though Quintana didn’t get a chance to strand Murphy on third, he was more than pleased with how he handled the moment.

“I think in the past sometimes I’ve been a little quick in the stretch,” Quintana said. “I just tried to be relaxed and just hit my spots. That’s all I tried to do and that worked good.”

“Honestly, I was a bit nervous in the first inning. I was (off) a couple pitches. After that, I tried to be focused.”

“It was amazing.”

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

1117_kris_bryant.jpg
USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

jakearrieta.png
AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.