Eloy Jimenez

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.”

The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

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USA TODAY

The good, the bad and the mixed: What went right and what went wrong for the 2017 White Sox

The White Sox lost 95 games, and yet their general manager described himself as pleased with certain aspects of the 2017 season.

He isn’t wrong to be.

Welcome to life in a rebuild.  

There’s undoubtedly analysts and fans who rightfully have questions about the direction the White Sox are headed. They traded almost all of their top players for unproven prospects who come without any guarantees. There’s no promise this will work. The White Sox haven’t proven anything yet, and it’ll likely be a few seasons before anyone knows if they’ve executed it.

But as crazy as it sounds, the White Sox had a good season that has begun to generate optimism from the fanbase. Whether it’s the number of trades Rick Hahn completed, the talent the team accumulated, how young players developed or several other reasons, the White Sox had plenty of positives this season. Here’s a look at what went right, what went wrong and what could have gone better.

The Good

1. Hahn traded almost everyone

What seemed impossible in December and more difficult in May was suddenly complete several days before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline. When the White Sox started 2017 with Jose Quintana on the roster after trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, some thought Hahn had overvalued Quintana. Then Quintana struggled through May, and the volume of those questions significantly increased. But everything was reduced to a whisper when the White Sox traded Quintana to the Cubs on July 13 for a package featuring elite prospect Eloy Jimenez. Hahn then spent the next six weeks trading everyone, completing his work with an Aug. 31 deal that sent Miguel Gonzalez to Texas. In all, nine players were traded during the season.

2. New kids prospered

Not everyone had great seasons, but many of the top prospects acquired since December took large steps forward. Lucas Giolito rediscovered his confidence. Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada forced the issue and fared well in the majors. Michael Kopech and Jimenez developed into elite prospects, and Dane Dunning continues to look like a steal.

3. Prospecting went well

Nowhere was the staggering amount of talent acquired by Hahn more evident than the farm system’s top-30 rankings. Even as Giolito, Lopez and Moncada graduated, the White Sox still have six prospects remaining on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 list. Ten on their current top-30 list have been added via trades since December. Three more came from the 2017 draft.

But the biggest move, one that signaled to fans the White Sox are serious about rebuilding, was the May signing of Luis Robert for $52 million. The penalties they faced — the $26 million tax and two years of international signing restrictions — weren’t enough to dissuade them from signing Robert, who is currently ranked No. 22 in MLB Pipeline’s list.

4. Foundation laid

Nearly as important as adding talent is making sure it’s fostered in the proper environment. Hahn thought manager Rick Renteria would instill the appropriate atmosphere and hired him.

The White Sox are ecstatic with what Renteria has done. Hahn and the front office have recognized those efforts all season long, praising the team for its unrelenting attitude and unwillingness to quit.

5. Older players developed, too

Tommy Kahnle went from project to setup man almost overnight and keyed a trade that brought Blake Rutherford and Ian Clarkin over from the Yankees. Avisail Garcia finally released his untapped potential and turned into an All Star and a potential trade chip. And Yolmer Sanchez found a new level and ensured himself a lot of future plate appearances.

The Bad

1. Carlos Rodon’s future is uncertain

The hope was Rodon would develop into a 33-start, 200-inning pitcher this season. Instead the White Sox have more questions about if Rodon will ever reach his potential. Rodon appeared to be unaffected by the bursitis in his left biceps that cost him three months when he struck out 9.9 batters per nine over 12 starts. But what Rodon’s future holds after he had arthroscopic surgery last week is anyone’s guess, even if the White Sox are optimistic he’ll fully recover.

2. Starting pitching gambles flop

Ten starts in, Derek Holland looked like a find and a potential trade candidate. But his fastball velocity dipped and his ERA soared, leading to Holland’s release last month. Rule 5 pitcher Dylan Covey showed some signs in his final two starts but struggled much of the season. Still, don’t be surprised if the White Sox follow a similar formula next season and try to convert a rehabbing pitcher or two into trade candidates.

3. The injury bug hit hard

Rodon wasn’t the only important player sidelined for a large chunk of the season. Nate Jones was limited to 11 games, Zach Putnam pitched in seven before he and prospect Zack Burdi had reconstructive elbow surgery. Catcher Geovany Soto was hurt twice and never got going. Leury Garcia’s breakout season was slowed by injuries, and even Avisail Garcia missed time with finger and knee soreness. It was hoped Charlie Tilson would take over in center field, but he didn't play a single game this season.

Mixed results

1. Anderson struggles before rebounding

Shortstop Tim Anderson’s ascent was derailed for several months as he struggled to cope with the May shooting death of his close friend, Branden Moss. Anderson made far too many errors and had a .608 OPS before he sought a grief counselor and turned around the toughest season of his life. After making 22 errors in 80 games, Anderson made six in the final 65. He also produced a .793 OPS in his final 54 games.

State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

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AP

State of the White Sox rebuild: Now we play the waiting game

CLEVELAND — Rick Hahn confirmed Tom Petty’s assertion about waiting — the White Sox general manager would love if it were already 2019.

He’d prefer to hit fast forward instead of having to wait.

The White Sox have experienced the pains of tearing down a veteran roster, transformed their farm system overnight from rags to riches, started to establish the hard-nosed brand of culture they desired and have seen numerous positive signs of development from top prospects with the belief many more are on the way. All of those aspects were neatly wrapped within a season that concluded with a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.

But as much progress as they've made, the White Sox — who finished with the fourth-worst record in the majors — know they’re not yet in the catbird seat. Though their current rookies have laid a strong foundation for potential success and provided hope, the White Sox must make sure they do the same for the next wave of highly touted prospects. Given how great Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez already look, Hahn admits it might not be so easy.

“We know we might be entering a slightly more difficult phase of this rebuild, and that is the phase where we have to allow this talent the time and patience to develop,” Hahn said. “With (Yoan) Moncada and (Lucas) Giolito and (Reynaldo) Lopez, there was a lot of people clamoring for them to come to Chicago and we had to remain strong and not bring them until we felt they were in the best position to have success.

“There’s going to be temptation again next year, whether it’s high-profile guys like (Michael) Kopech and (Eloy) Jimenez … or others on the fast track — that in order to get this thing right for the long term, we have to make sure they answer our questions that we have for them at the player development level before they come to Chicago. Ultimately, that may prove to be challenging,”

The optimism has already begun to surface around the White Sox. Buoyed by the performance of several top prospects, a winning record in September after a bumpy post-trade deadline stretch has the White Sox upbeat.

Manager Rick Renteria always sets a high bar. But he’s said several times during the final week he likes what he’s seen from a young squad that has a pair of heavy-hitting veterans in the middle. Whether it was Thursday’s “this choo choo is moving forward,” or Sunday’s answer, Renteria is already optimistic about the possibility of competing as soon as next season.

“It’s possible,” Renteria said. “You never know. 

“Anything is possible.”

But Hahn is likely to stick to the same patient, long-view strategy he applied to the 2017 season. That means no prospects will be rushed and no short-term solutions will be used. If the White Sox are going to compete next season, they’ll have to do it with what is on hand.

Given how the bullpen was decimated by trades and injuries, the White Sox appear to have plenty of holes to fill. They also will feature an extremely young, albeit, talented starting rotation.

The growing pains the team is likely to experience should prevent the front office from being placed in that awkward spot where fans clamor for Kopech or Jimenez before the White Sox believe they’ve answered all their development questions.

You can expect the demand to come at an absurdly high volume if Kopech and Jimenez perform similar to the way they did in 2017, when both soared up the charts and turned into top-10 prospects.

Hahn and Co. applied the same patient approach this season to Giolito, Lopez, Moncada and Carson Fulmer with strong results. They waited, waited and waited some more to promote the young group. The success the White Sox achieved in developing their older prospects would likely only encourage them to remain thorough with Kopech and Jimenez as painstaking as it may be.

“We’re going to have to remain diligent and realize that this isn’t about any individual player or any individual season, this is about building something for the long term,” Hahn said. “For this next phase, that’s going to require player development to play its important role and for us to have patience in Chicago that would allow that to unfold.”