Phil Barnes

Jose Quintana stays strong despite quiet Cubs bats

Jose Quintana stays strong despite quiet Cubs bats

Despite a 7-0 shutout loss Friday to open a three-game set against the Brewers, it wasn't for lack of effort on the mound for Cubs starter Jose Quintana.

The lefty went 6 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs on four hits with six strikeouts on an afternoon when his numbers probably didn't look as good as his performance suggested.

"It was a battle. I executed my pitches, I just made one mistake with [Ryan] Braun," said Quintana, referencing a two-out solo homer in the fourth inning. "I was behind in the count and I missed a fastball away. I think that's the only mistake of the game. It was a tough game."

Despite the home run, Quintana fared well until running into trouble in the seventh inning, when he surrendered a single to Yasmani Grandal and then walked Jesus Aguilar on four pitches. That started what would eventually turn into a two-run inning.

"It just started with the breaking ball base hit to Grandal," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "After that, he kind of lost his zone a little bit. He walked Aguilar and walked [Orlando] Arcia and then eventually they got another run or two. It was just weird because he was going so well, Q was going so well, and after the base hit, things just changed a little bit."

Six weeks into the season, Milwaukee appears to be the only side giving Quintana much of a problem. The 30-year-old has had a resurgent campaign in which he's 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA in 36 2/3 innings in five starts against anyone not named the Brewers. His only two losses of the year have come at the hand of the NL Central foe, who have also posted a 10.24 ERA (much of that resulting from an eight-run clunker on April 5).

"You always want to support the pitcher," said infielder David Bote of the quiet offense. "They've kept us in a lot of ballgames the last month and you can't say enough about them. It was just a little bit off today in terms of finishing it off. It's going to happen."

It marks just the third time the Cubs have been shut out this year. On five occasions Friday the Cubs led off the inning with a man on but, were unable to convert. They were quick to credit opposing starter Gio Gonzalez's effort.

"Both starters were great. Gio was locating well," Bote said. "He was just able to mix things up and made a couple balls hit right at people. But it happens."

Gonzalez gave up just two hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out three.

"We faced a guy today who's been notoriously difficult," Maddon said. "In the last year we have not done as well against their pitching staff in general, we've got to figure them out. But it's one loss. Best out of three series. Let's go home, have a good night sleep and come back tomorrow."

 

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For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old

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USA TODAY

For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old

Andy Haines still gets jitters walking into Wrigley Field. He got them as a kid growing up in southern Illinois. He got them last year as an assistant hitting coach for the Cubs. And that feeling was most definitely prevalent when he walked into the ballpark for the first time as Brewers hitting coach on Friday.

“I think any time you walk inside Wrigley Field, it's just a different type of feeling,” said Haines, who’s in his first year with manager Craig Counsell’s staff. “Last year I lived walking distance. You walk into Wrigley, I don't know what the right word would be, but you definitely have emotion walking in the building. It's a special place, it's unique. You get the same type of jitters and excitement and see a lot of familiar faces. I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be pretty special to be back.”

In early November, Haines took the Brewers job, leaving the Cubs after two seasons (he spent 2016 as a minor-league hitting coordinator). The shift from one NL Central team to another meant he was no longer tinkering the approach of players like Javier Báez, but it also afforded Haines the opportunity to work with another loaded offensive unit, including reigning MVP Christian Yelich. And though their on-field styles aren’t identical, the 42-year-old Haines sees a lot of similarities in the two players’ games.

“I think with both guys, with Javy and Christian both, you're dealing with guys who's skillset and overall talent is just immense,” Haines said. “It's like these guys are elite, two of the best players in Major League Baseball and they both care about the right things and they're very similar that way. Perception of them would probably be a lot different to the fans, their demeanor on the field but eerily similar as far as talent and ability.

"And then at this level, when you combine that talent level with caring about the right things, you're just unstoppable. And that's what both of them are right now. I think it's probably the most difficult thing to coach is a player that elite because they're so elite that when they get a little bit off, it's harder to see.”

Haines worked in the Marlins organization as a minor league hitting coach and manager from 2008-2015. In those early days with the organization, one player whose progress he was responsible for overseeing was a teenage Yelich. Their previous relationship made the reunion all the easier, with the All-Star informing Haines to not go easy on him.

“We're staying on top of it and that's what I told him at the beginning of the season; I told him 'I want you to stay on my [butt], don't let me get lackadaisical, or if you think something is wrong or something is starting to stray, tell me,’" Yelich said. “I told him if we gotta get in a fist fight in the cage and hug and make-up afterwards, then it's all good. That's the kind of guy he is and the kind of relationship I like to have. That's what I value with Andy, that's how it's always been. He cares a lot and as a player you can appreciate that.

“When you get a new coach it's not always like that because the familiarity with each other, we know each other. He's known me since I was an 18-year-old kid. There's familiarity there and a comfort level that allowed us to dive in right away in spring training and get up to speed quickly.”

Though there haven’t been any reported melees in the cages, Haines appears to be pushing the right buttons with the Brewers’ offense, which ranks fifth in the NL in runs scored entering Friday. Team OPS is sixth in the NL, its hard-hit rate is up more than 6 percent from last year and the walk rate is up nearly a percent as well. 

Individually, Yelich isn’t the only player benefitting from Haines’ tactics. Infielder Mike Moustakas is out to a fast start this year, with a slugging percentage that is 100 points better than 2018. The veteran appreciated Haines’ no-nonsense approach and believes it’s made a difference.

“I love Andy, Andy is incredible. He just laid it out to me flat out in what I was getting beat with and all that stuff, Moustakas said. “As far as the hitting coach goes, you have to individualize each person, you can't be a cookie-cutter mold of hitters. I hit different than [Yelich], I hit different from [Lorenzo Cain], and the thing Andy does great is he finds what works great for you and he works with that.”

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Brewers carrying lessons from Game 163 into 2019 divisional race

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USA TODAY

Brewers carrying lessons from Game 163 into 2019 divisional race

It’s been 221 days since the Brewers celebrated a Game 163 victory — and their first NL Central title since 2011 — at Wrigley Field last October. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a player in their clubhouse who spent the last seven months marking days off the calendar.

After all, the 2019 campaign is a new season with new expectations. 

“As a team it was a fun year last year, we accomplished a lot, but we also need to turn the page as well,” said veteran outfielder Lorenzo Cain. “Going into this year, we've got new goals in mind, new things in mind that we want to accomplish. That's what we're trying to go out there and do, go out and create some new memories this year.”

Even fourth-year manager Craig Counsell was quick to turn the page on what was arguably the most seminal moment of his coaching career, joking that it ranked behind walking into the modernized road clubhouses at Wrigley Field.

“It was a big moment for the organization, that's what I would say,” Counsell said. “It was a big day for our fans and that's what makes you remember that day the most.”

But winning that game or not, he believes expectations for the Brewers would have been the same regardless of the one-game playoff outcome.

Infielder Mike Moustakas did note that playing the Oct. 1 game may have been beneficial for a young team, as it allowed for some postseason experience before the true elimination setting took place.

“Last year we went on an incredible run to even have an opportunity to get there but I think the one thing it did to for us was calm this team's nerves down as far as in the postseason now,” said Moustakas, who claimed a World Series title in 2015 with the Royals and knows the importance of experience in October. “When you play an all-or-nothing game like that or in the Wild Card, it kind of takes all the emotions out of you and drains you of all that stuff so you just go out there and play ball again. So I think that's what helped us.”

Six weeks into 2019, this season’s team seems to have picked up right where it left off last year. The Brewers showed up to Wrigley Field Friday having won six straight games and just a game back of the equally hot Cubs in the NL Central standings.

Milwaukee is 10-6 in the NL Central, even with only a +2 run differential. Despite being in a division with four teams at .500 or better, the Brewers seem to relish the opportunities to play divisional foes.

“It means a lot to the standings when you play a division opponent,” Cain said. “You know if you beat them they can only go one way. It's a lot of fun playing division guys.

“You try to treat every game the same, whether it's April or September. A lot more is put on later on in the season when you need the game really bad but you gotta try to treat every game the same because you never know when you might need that game. Every game counts, every game is huge. It's always a little more special when you play divisional opponents, especially the Cubs. Every time we're at Wrigley Field, it feels more like a playoff game.”

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