Cubs

Cubs have seen just about everything from Nationals and reacted like this: ‘So what? Now what?’

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USA TODAY

Cubs have seen just about everything from Nationals and reacted like this: ‘So what? Now what?’

Dusty Baker is a former Marine, a Renaissance man and a borderline Hall of Famer, but at Wrigley Field he will always be identified on some level for how the 2003 Cubs completely collapsed, five outs away from the World Series.

Less than three months after Steve Bartman got a championship ring, this is the how the Cubs have reacted to everything the Washington Nationals have done in this National League Division Series: “So what? Now what?”

It didn’t matter that Stephen Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Game 1, and the bullpen imploded in a Game 2 loss, and the defense committed four errors in Game 3 while Max Scherzer pitched a no-hitter into the seventh inning on a bad right hamstring.

After a 2-1 loss on Monday night, Baker still had to explain why he pulled Scherzer after 98 pitches and led his team into an elimination game without using top setup guy Ryan Madson or closer Sean Doolittle. This team is just wired differently – physically, mentally and emotionally – than the ones that tortured Cubs fans for generations.

“There was no panic in the dugout,” said Ben Zobrist, who ended Scherzer’s no-hitter with a double into the left-center field gap and knocked out the two-time Cy Young Award winner. “There was no thought that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just: When is it going to happen?

“When we make mistakes, as a team, the mantra is: So what? Now what?”

Like when the Cubs sacrifice left-field defense for middle-of-the-order offense and hope Kyle Schwarber can change the game with one thunderous left-handed swing against Scherzer. Only to watch Schwarber misjudge Daniel Murphy’s flyball in left field and then knock it away as he tried to pick it up, that double error leading to Washington’s first run in the sixth inning.

“That’s just the way we’re built,” said Albert Almora Jr., standing at his locker after delivering the pinch-hit single that scored Zobrist and tied the game in the seventh inning. “It starts before the game. When we’re in here, we’re family. And then once the game starts, we’re never out of it until the last out’s recorded.

“‘We never quit.’ It was on our World Series ring last year. That motto doesn't change.”

The Cubs listen to Jason Heyward, the Gold Glove outfielder with the $184 million contract who became a part-time player during last year’s postseason and still had enough juice to give the Game 7 Rain Delay Speech.

Heyward and center fielder Jon Jay spoke with Schwarber during the Jose Quintana/Pedro Strop pitching change that blew up on Maddon in the sixth inning.

“Just keep going,” Heyward said. “(Schwarber) was trying to make the play. That’s that. Just got to go onto the next thing. Just relax and (remember) the game is not over. Just give him some love there. It’s a tough spot and you know he wants to come through. We all do.”

Heyward had already wiped away errors by Quintana and Zobrist when he stared into the sun and made a running catch on the warning track to rob No. 3 hitter Anthony Rendon, ending the third inning.

[MORE CUBS-NATS: How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3]

Heyward needed to follow his own advice after killing that seventh-inning rally, making a rare miscalculation on the ball Addison Russell drove into center field, committing to trying to score from first base and thinking it would fade away from Michael A. Taylor. Wrong.

After that 8-4-3 double play, Heyward said, “Guys were telling me: ‘Hey, so what? Now what?’ Tie game, got some baseball left to play. That’s the only mindset that we have.”

Here’s how Kris Bryant summed up the mood in the dugout while Scherzer stomped on and off the mound: “He’ll break. ‘Q’ was doing his thing, too. I didn’t think there was a sense of urgency or anything. I think we were all pretty fine.”

Whether it’s homegrown players like Bryant and Almora who only know winning in Chicago – or big-ticket free agents like Heyward and Zobrist who were signed to change the culture in Wrigleyville – the Cubs don’t really care how good the Nationals are or worry about what might go wrong. That’s what makes the defending champs so dangerous this October.

“So what? Now what? What are we going to do?” Zobrist said. “That’s the thing around here: Everybody’s going to make mistakes at times, but we got to pick each other up. And that’s what we do.

“We proved that we have that kind of mettle in our system last year. And there’s more to it.”

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.