Jose Quintana is an All Star, not far removed from being considered one of the American League's best pitchers. Between 2014 and 2016, he turned in a 3.29 ERA in a whopping 96 starts with the White Sox. It was a big deal when the Cubs acquired him last summer.
So why does he seem like the forgotten man in the Cubs' new super rotation?
Capable of being a No. 1 starter in plenty of big league rotations, Quintana has the talent — he fanned 12 Baltimore Orioles in his first start as a Cub (that immediately after he punched out 10 Colorado Rockies in his last start with the White Sox) — and the track record that should make him one of the most talked about pitchers on this team. But it seems he's being overshadowed by the three men who will pitch before him when the season opens up in Miami: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish. Lester has three World Series rings and is almost undoubtedly one of the best and most accomplished pitchers of his generation. Hendricks is a fan favorite who led the starting staff in ERA in each of the last two seasons, leading the entire National League in that category two seasons back, when the Cubs won that curse-smashing World Series title. Darvish is the Cubs' shiny new toy, a high-priced free-agent acquisition who represents the franchise's "World Series or bust" expectations for 2018 and the seasons that follow.
But don't forget about Quintana, who could be as good as any of them.
"I saw him on numerous occasions with the White Sox and was always extremely impressed, the way that he pitches," new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey said last month in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "He also is one of those guys who knows what he’s capable of and how he needs to pitch, and he does a really, really good job.
"He may go overlooked nationally or whatever, but he would be a front-end-of-the-rotation starter on 30 teams in baseball. I consider him that here, as well, whether he pitches Game 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. He’s still a leader of the rotation, and boy, I tell you, he’s exciting, too. It’s going to be fun to watch."
Of course, the outside perception of Quintana being a forgotten man doesn't apply inside the team. Quintana is as important a cog in this beefed-up rotation as anyone else.
Quintana said in the early days of spring training that the constant trade rumors in the first half of last season got to him a bit, gave him something to worry about besides going out and pitching. That's not to say it's the only reason he posted a career-high 4.15 ERA in 2017, but being settled in with the Cubs for a full season can't hurt. Heck, it helped right after the trade: Quintana had a 4.49 ERA in his 18 starts with the White Sox and a significantly lower 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts with the Cubs.
"They made it easy to be here, all my teammates. They take care of me, and the coaches, everybody," Quintana said. "They made it easy, that transition. Being in Chicago, everything was easy. ... Last year was a little hard for me when I heard (the trade talk) every day. But now it’s different so I feel relaxed and feel really good."
Quintana brings so much to this team, and whether it's the willful ignorance of North Side fans who don't want to pay any attention to what's happening on the South Side or just the fact that his teams never made the playoffs, so many forget just how great he was with the White Sox.
He was famous for getting the short end of the stick when it came to winning games, hooked with the loss in 1-0 and 2-1 games with an almost laughable frequency. But that didn't alter his consistency: In each of the last five seasons — his five full seasons in the big leagues — he's made at least 32 starts and struck out at least 164 batters. He's pitched more than 200 innings in four of those seasons and kept his ERA at 3.51 or lower in four of them, too. And he keeps getting better, statistically. His five strikeout totals since 2013: 164, 178, 177, 181, 207. Prior to last year's ERA jump, his ERA kept going down, too: 3.51, 3.32, 3.36, 3.20. In 2016, the same season in which Lester and Hendricks were National League Cy Young finalists, Quintana finished in the top 10 in voting for the AL edition.
The Cubs had one of baseball's best rotations before trading for Quintana last season. But the South Side import might be able to teach the longtime North Siders a thing or two.
"I love watching Q, man," Lester said. "I love watching his tempo. His tempo never changes. It can be shit hitting the fan, stuff going on, never changes, he’s the same guy. Kind of like Kyle. We’re similar pitchers, but we’re very different at the same time. Having that lefty to kind of look at and see what he does and pick up things is nice. I love everything that he does. He prepares, he works his butt off. And he’s fun to watch. He throws his heater, he competes. There’s a lot of positives there. It was fun to watch him the last couple months last year, so it’ll be fun to have him this year for the full go."
And just like the Cubs have incredibly high expectations for the upcoming campaign, Quintana is the same way when it comes to his personal expectations. Unsurprisingly, he wants to improve on last season. But he also wants to take advantage of the opportunity he didn't have on the other side of town. By being on a contending team he not only has a chance to pick up some more wins, but he has a chance to get back to October. Last postseason was Quintana's first, and he had some good results, especially in the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals, when he allowed no earned runs and struck out seven in 6.1 innings.
"My expectations are honestly so high," Quintana said. "I want to get back to October. And I know it’s a long way and we need to do a lot of things first. Hopefully health, first of all, for all my teammates. We need to do big things. But I want to get back to 200 innings and win more games every five days, get more chances to take a win.
"I remember really good things from the postseason. I remember the atmosphere in all the games was amazing. And I learned why we play this game. Every guy plays for October. I made it for the first year last year, and I want to go back."