ST. LOUIS — Lost in the Yu Darvish Experience and the case of the missing offense, Jose Quintana has quietly struggled to get on track in 2018.
The left-handed pitcher changed everything when the Cubs pulled off a crosstown shocker last July, acquiring Quintana for top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease.
The move — and the statement it made that the front office was doubling down on this roster — jumpstarted a hungover Cubs team that exploded out of the All-Star break before fading in its third straight trip to the National League Championship series.
Quintana was everything the Cubs hoped he'd be in 2017 — going 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and striking out 98 batters in 84.1 innings. He didn't allow a run in 6.1 innings (including a rare relief appearance) in the NLDS and held his own with Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLCS (before getting knocked around by the Dodgers in the NLCS clincher).
Things haven't been anywhere near as smooth in the first six weeks of 2018.
Quintana hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 11.1 innings, but even still, he's sporting a 4.99 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in six starts. He was hit with his second loss of the season Friday night, lasting just 4 innings against the Cardinals and surrendering 3 unearned runs on a three-run shot by Tommy Pham in the second inning.
That one bad pitch to Pham — a 2-0 fastball over the heart of the plate that had catcher Willson Contreras crossed up — came a few batters after a Javy Baez error kept the door open and it was the only offense the Cardinals needed all night.
"He had to fight through that [88 pitches] after 4 innings," Joe Maddon said. "Just could not get in a solid rhythm strike-throwing. Although, almost got through it outside of a home run.
"I know they were kinda not on the same page with that pitch — 2-0 count, lefty on deck. There was no reason to go after Pham right there. So I think that was just a little bit of a mix-up.
"...Deep counts, walks, they got a couple knocks, we made an error — that was a big play. But overall, you could see he was just not in any kind of a groove at any time tonight."
Much like Darvish, Quintana's overall season numbers are also boosted by two stellar starts against the Milwaukee Brewers, a team he has absolutely dominated in the recent going (24 straight scoreless innings vs. MIL).
In two starts against the Brewers, Quintana hasn't allowed a run in 13 innings, permitting just 5 hits and 3 walks while striking out 13.
Against all other teams, the veteran southpaw has given up 20 runs (17 earned) on 26 hits and 13 walks in 17.2 innings.
So that's a 0.00 ERA and 0.62 WHIP vs. Milwaukee and an 8.90 ERA and 2.27 WHIP vs. everybody else.
Quintana has admitted his delivery has been off for parts of the season and that's led to falling behind hitters much more than he'd like to.
"It's really frustrating for me when you wait for five days to get the best result out there and you get a start like that," he said Friday. "But that happened and now focusing on the next one."
Quintana said his main focus next time out Wednesday against the Miami Marlins will be on getting ahead and hitting spots early in counts so he can limit opposing hitters and hopefully work deeper into games.
The Cubs are having conversations in trying to get Yu Darvish back on track, but they need Quintana to right the ship consistently just as much as they need their new free agent prize to pitch up to his capabilities.
For a 29-year-old who has been remarkably consistent over the course of his 7-year MLB career, it's still pretty likely Quintana will finish with some pretty solid numbers in 2018. It's probably just a matter of when he starts to display that level of effectiveness each time out.