Cubs

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

One of baseball’s best kept secrets is about to step into the October spotlight for the very first time and everyone wonders how he’ll handle the moment.

Even though Jose Quintana has never pitched in the postseason, he said the key to his debut on Monday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series will be to keep things simple.

Prior to Sunday afternoon’s brunch-out at Wrigley Field, Quintana said he spent the previous two games soaking up the playoff atmosphere and taking notes from veteran teammates. The Cubs’ key midseason acquisition expects to be excitable when he faces Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals in front of a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field with the series tied 1-1. But Quintana also believes that all that matters is if hit his spots and stays out of the middle of the zone.

“I feel really good,” Quintana said. “I’m so excited. I try to be like, you know, cool, but be present and focus on my game.

“Like I say, I don’t want to change nothing. Just throw my ball well and just focus, pitch by pitch. At this time, a short series, it’s really important, every pitch.”

Quintana’s only other opportunity to reach the postseason in five seasons was with the 2012 White Sox, whose position players were beat up and its rotation simply ran out of gas in September. Even though this type of start is exactly why the Cubs made a blockbuster to acquire him, shipping elite hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez and hard-throwing righty Dylan Cease to the White Sox in July, it’s only natural to wonder how Quintana will fare. The 2017 postseason has been largely unkind to first-time starting pitchers so far as Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker, Boston’s Chris Sale and Colorado’s Jon Gray were all hit hard in their October debuts.

But the left-hander has come close to replicating a similar atmosphere when he pitched for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic against Team USA on March 11, retiring the first 17 hitters he faced.  

Beyond that, Quintana pitched extremely well down the stretch for the Cubs during their drive to the NL Central title. Manager Joe Maddon cited Quintana’s brilliant Sept. 24 turn at Milwaukee when he struck out 10 during a three-hit shutout as evidence he’s ready. Quintana went 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts with only four walks in 38 1/3 innings over his final six starts.

“I don’t want to keep going back in time, but that four-game series up there was really pertinent,” Maddon said. “He had a great look. I can only tell you --- we’re all into reading people’s faces and their vibe and their energy and all that stuff. And he had it. He has it. My only concern is that he’s over-amped a little bit too much, too soon tomorrow afternoon. But he’s wanted to be this guy.”

Similar to Sale, Quintana has always desired this moment. Reaching the postseason has been his goal every season from the first time he plays catch in spring training to his first bullpen to the first start. Quintana’s laser focus in between starts always made him an easy example for White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper to use as a model for his other pitchers to follow. It also contributed to the pinpoint command that has allowed him to excel as a big leaguer.

[MORE: 6 main NLDS takeaways heading into Cubs-Nationals Game 3

His former catch partner with the White Sox, pitcher Carlos Rodon, said that even during a simple warmup drill, Quintana always tried to hit an invisible circle between his legs at knee-high level.

That “focused practice,” as Cooper calls it, has always helped Quintana stay dialed in during trying moments. It’ll likely be critical once again when Quintana takes the hill on Monday against a team he’s never faced before.

“The approach never changes,” Quintana said. “I saw that with (Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester) and watching around the field in Washington was great. It’s exciting.

“John Lackey told me the last couple days, try to do your job. Just hit your spots and never change. The game’s the same and you’re going to feel the energy around you, so it’s really exciting. I’ve never seen games like this, and it’s really fun.” 

All-Time best Chicago Cubs players by jersey number

cubs_marquee.jpg
USA Today

All-Time best Chicago Cubs players by jersey number

When your franchise dates back to 1876, you're gonna have a lot of incredible players take the field. The Cubs have certainly had their fair share of greats, with 51 Hall of Famers having some tie to the team, according to Baseball Reference.

But who's the best for each jersey number? Sure there are some no-brainers, but several numbers had several guys who could make a case. For instance, does Alfonso Soriano or Kyle Schwarber get the nod at No. 12?

These are our selections for the best Cubs for every number.

How a shortened MLB season could impact the Cubs and White Sox

How a shortened MLB season could impact the Cubs and White Sox

Nothing appears imminent. And the thought of starting as soon as next month seems over-ambitious, if not implausible.

But Major League Baseball on Tuesday acknowledged reported discussions with the players over plans that might include opening the season with all 30 teams playing in Arizona, using spring training stadiums, the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and possibly other sites.

Various reports suggest these games would not allow fans in attendance, would be staged in quarantine-like conditions (players housed without families at hotels and traveling only to stadiums) and that the season might include electronic strikes zones and doubleheaders with seven-inning games.

Myriad logistical considerations must be resolved before anything close to this is possible, not the least of which involves the establishing of an ability to test frequently and in high volume — along with contingencies to allow for continued league play in the case of a positive test.

But the discussions offer a glimmer of possibility, if not the start of a blueprint, for an actual season this year.

With that in mind, we take a look at how this possible plan for an abbreviated season — along with the recent MLB agreement with players on service time and other financial issues — might impact Chicago’s two baseball teams (beyond the shared advantages of being among the teams with existing infrastructure in Arizona).

Cubs Insider Gordon Wittenmyer and White Sox reporter Vinnie Duber break it down. (And don’t miss their discussion on the subject on the Cubs Talk Podcast.)

What about a shorter season and shorter games in any doubleheaders (assuming added roster spots)?

Gordon: This could work out in favor of the Cubs, who have an aging rotation, a rebuilt, uncertain bullpen and not a lot of proven depth across the entire pitching staff. Lean more on starters knowing they’ll pile up fewer innings over the season? Only seven innings to navigate with a late lead in doubleheader games? And if Jose Quintana’s annual stellar two-month run happens out of the chute, watch out.

Vinnie: Long relief, specifically, could be a concern for the White Sox with few options to rely on while starters build up to full strength. If starters are only going three or four innings early on, will the White Sox have enough to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen? The good news with a late start is Michael Kopech and the other pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery that the team figured to be midseason additions could instead be early season additions and provide greater starting depth.

And if they employ electronic strike zones?

Gordon: This already figured to be a boon in waiting for the Cubs, whose two-time starting All-Star catcher has only one nagging flaw in his game: receiving/framing. Eliminate the need to try to steal strikes, and Willson Contreras can use his athletic ability behind the plate any way he wants to better block pitches or to cheat on pop time to gain an even bigger advantage with his big arm. Will it help a starting staff that relies more on command for outs? Maybe. Either way it puts Contreras in position to take his All-Star game to another level.

Vinnie: It would have the opposite effect for the White Sox, who just signed Yasmani Grandal in part because of his elite framing ability. Only two catchers rated higher than Grandal in pitch-framing in 2019, a huge upgrade after James McCann ranked dead last in that category during his All-Star season a year ago. Grandal’s value goes well beyond simply pitch-framing with what he can do both at the plate and behind it. But while robotic umpires have long seemed a matter of when not if, the White Sox might have at least benefited from Grandal’s framing skills for part of his four-year contract. Now? Perhaps none of it.

If luxury tax statuses and penalty phases are frozen for a year, how does that impact a Cubs team that went over the penalty threshold last year and a White Sox team that is positioned well, especially with several projected core players signed to modest long-term extensions?

Gordon: Unlike the Red Sox, the Cubs did not dump salary to reset their luxury-tax liability schedule after last season, which looked good for the Red Sox and not so good for the Cubs two months ago. Now? It puts the Cubs at least in position to kick the can down the road into next winter — like they did last winter — and ride out the wave with this core through whatever amounts to the entirety of this season. That’s a big advantage over the midseason evaluation that might have led to an ugly trade-deadline selloff of at least one or two fan favorites. Would ownership be willing to step up next winter and spend to win in what might be the final year with the likes of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo — and the final year of the collective bargaining agreement? That might be the biggest question that arises out of the strange circumstances of this season.

Vinnie: The White Sox face the opposite problem, not trying to cram one last ride into their contention window but waiting at the starting line for the thing to open. Those extensions for Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada seemed genius moves at the time from a team-control standpoint. Now, one year of the team control on those contracts shrinks and could potentially get lopped off entirely. The White Sox future doesn’t get any less bright, nor does their contention window get significantly smaller. But as Cubs fans well know, one year during that window can make a big difference.

What about the fact that players on 40-man rosters who are still in big-league camps have been assured of service time for lost time on the schedule — including a full season of credit if the season is canceled?

Gordon: Other than the fact it means Kris Bryant doesn’t get screwed by the system a second time (already having lost his grievance over service-time manipulation)? Say hello to Nico Hoerner, Cub fans. Hoerner was expected to open the season at Triple-A Iowa if only because of playing-time concerns and other issues involving some of the other numbers games related to the roster of spring infield candidates. And while service time is only one small part of the equation with the rookie who debuted last fall in emergency duty, the apparent lack of a minor-league season plan, the expanded rosters and the need for more players in Arizona heat all would contribute to making Hoerner a big-league part of this team whenever the season were to start — and making the Cubs a better team in the process.

Vinnie: Allow me to discuss the potentially ridiculous case of Luis Robert, who got a contract extension in January that keeps him under club control through the 2027 season. He’s yet to accrue a single day of major league service time, and if there is no 2020 season, he won’t get any service time this year, either. That chops one full year of team control off the contract, already stinging the White Sox a little. But how about this dispatch from an alternate future? If there is no season in 2020 and the White Sox had opted to pull a Cubs and delay Robert’s debut by a few weeks into the 2021 season, they could have controlled him for as long as they do now for many millions less.

Beyond what the proposed conditions might mean for the rookies, any bold predictions about how this plan might impact others on the roster in a way that might even get into Cy Young or MVP consideration?

Gordon: Two words: Yu. Darvish. The four-time All-Star finished last year with one of the most dominant second halves in the majors, and early indications this spring suggested he was poised to pick up where he left off. But remember, for a guy who has earned four All-Star selections, Darvish has been hard-pressed to put together a full, dominant season for various reasons during seven seasons in the big leagues. He has put together several big halves of seasons. A half-season in 2020 might be built for him — maybe even a Cy Young push.

Vinnie: Not sure if he will end up in the AL Cy Young conversation, but a shortened season would seem to present an opportunity for Michael Kopech and for the White Sox, who would have the ability to use him much differently than they were planning to in a normal season. Kopech is healthy after a year-plus spent recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he still hasn’t thrown more than 134.1 innings in a pro season, the reason the White Sox are cautious about his workload. But with fewer games and fewer innings to throw, Kopech might not start the season in the minors, and workload might not be as big a concern. The worry that he might approach his limit when games got really meaningful in September and maybe October might get thrown out the window, allowing Kopech to not just pitch in those crucial games but perhaps pitch at full go in dominating, fireballing fashion.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.