Jose Quintana

Arcia the surprising hero that took down Cubs: 'The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason'

Arcia the surprising hero that took down Cubs: 'The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason'

The Brewers' No. 8 hitter had more hits (4) than the entire Cubs lineup (3) in the one-game playoff to decide the National League Central Monday afternoon.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Joe Maddon didn't think this game came down to the bullpens, pointing to how the Brewers had 12 hits and his Cubs team managed only 3. 

It was Orlando Arcia that provided the spark for the Brewers, scoring the first run in the third inning and the winning run in the eighth inning. 

He came into the day hitting just .227 with a .559 OPS over the first 162 days of the 2018 regular season (including a September surge where he hit .288 with a .733 OPS that month).

Arcia led off the third inning with a single off Jose Quintana, was sacrificed to second base and scored a batter later on Christian Yelich's single.

In the eighth, Arcia singled to lead off the inning on an 0-2 pitch from Justin Wilson - a slider that caught way too much of the plate. He later scored on a Lorenzo Cain single to send the Brewers into the NLDS and the Cubs into a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card at Wrigley Field Tuesday night.

"We'd like to have one pitch back to Arcia - that kinda set the whole thing up," Maddon said.

Wilson started off by blowing a pair of fastballs by Arcia (clocked at 96 and 95 mph) and Maddon admitted he would've liked to see the Cubs southpaw go with another fastball there given that it's Wilson's bread-and-butter pitch.

Going into the game, Arcia may have been one of the last players anybody would've picked to be the difference-maker in the fight for the division, but the Cubs weren't surprised.

"We just made some pitches at the wrong time to him," Maddon said. "But to his credit, he took advantage of it. That's what happens at this time of year in playoffs - somebody that's maybe not been on the radar screen all the sudden pops and they do something really well."

Cole Hamels didn't pitch in Monday's game, but he was still able to lend his perspective to Arcia's big game. Hamels is in his 13th year in the big leagues and is in his eighth trip to the postseason.

"The No. 8 hitter is the most dangerous guy in the postseason," Hamels said. "You're so focused on those big guys - your 2-3-4-5 guys. Sometimes you can let your guard down on the No. 8 guy because you have the pitcher coming up.

"Those guys can surprise you and I've seen it numerous times. Those No. 8 hitters, they can definitely get the big home run or the big hit and it allows that pitcher to actually do his job [at the plate], which is to move him over and turn over that lineup. 

"He's been playing really well. You have to give him credit - four hits is very tough in this atmosphere against our guys. He's living a great moment today and hopefully we'll get the opportuinty to play against them again [in the NLDS]."

Chaos reigns supreme: Cubs set for one of the most epic days in baseball history

Chaos reigns supreme: Cubs set for one of the most epic days in baseball history

This certainly isn't the way the Cubs or their fans would've drawn it up, but it sure is making for a fun — and stressful — final couple weeks of the season.

The Cubs weren't able to fully hold off the Milwaukee Brewers' late-season charge in the National League Central, but they didn't fall out of first place, either, thanks to a 10-5 win over the Cardinals Sunday.

So we will have a Game 163 Monday at Wrigley Field to decide the division.

The winner will get Tuesday and Wednesday off and then host Game 1 of the NLDS Thursday and have homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs. 

The loser will host the NL Wild-Card Game Tuesday evening.

Oh, and that's not all: The Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies will also play in a Game 163 Monday, marking the first time in the history of baseball there will be two tiebreaker games needed to decide divisional races.

Hold on to your butts.

Because the second game takes place on the West Coast, first pitch of Cubs-Brewers will be at 12:05 p.m. Chicago time and aired on ESPN. (Considering a team from each game has to travel the next day to play in the Wild-Card Game, MLB opts for matinee times for Game 163.)

Obviously the Cubs want to win Monday to avoid playing a one-game Wild-Card Tuesday that "takes years off your life" and would also represent the 12th straight day with a game. The Cubs' only off-day this month was Sept. 20 as they've endured a hellish stretch compounded by rain delays and postponements.

Even with that tough schedule, the Cubs won 4 of their last 5 games, but the Brewers won their final 7 games in a row, riding the red-hot bat of potential NL MVP Christian Yelich.

The Cubs get to host Game 163 tiebreaker since they went 11-8 against the Brewers in the regular season. But after starting out 8-1 against their division rivals, the Cubs finished 3-7 and dropped the last two series vs. Milwaukee.

As for the pitching matchup for Monday, Jose Quintana is on regular rest to face the Brewers, a team he has pitched very, very well against in his career and this season.

In 6 starts against Milwaukee in 2018, Quintana is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. He has a 1.60 ERA against the Brewers in 10 career starts.

It's not for sure yet, but Milwaukee probably counters with their ace, Jhoulys Chacin, in Monday's game. He last worked Wednesday, so he's on regular rest for Monday.

Like Quintana, Chacin has also had a fantastic 2018 season against his Monday opponent. In 4 starts against the Cubs this year, the 30-year-old right-hander was 2-2 with a 1.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.

The Cubs should have all of their top relievers available for action, as Steve Cishek (10 pitches) and Carl Edwards Jr. (17 pitches) were not used heavily Sunday.

The Brewers didn't have to rely on their best relievers Sunday thanks to an 11-0 blowout victory and Josh Hader hasn't pitched since Friday (though he served up a two-run shot in that outing).

Jon Lester would be in line to start the Cubs' next game after Monday...whether that's Tuesday or Thursday.

And because it's part of the regular season still, the Cubs should have their entire expanded roster available for Monday's game. And yes, the stats count for both teams.

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

Reynaldo Lopez outdueling Jose Quintana shows why White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was

White Sox fans have been great at buying in to Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort.

But if there were controversies along the way, they stemmed from the dealing away of two of the best young pitchers in the American League.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana represented the White Sox in the All-Star Game back in 2016, perhaps as good a 1-2 punch as there was in the Junior Circuit and a dream tandem to throw in a playoff series, if the South Siders could ever get there. But they couldn’t. Not in the state they were in. And so Hahn shifted from win-now mode to rebuilding mode, with the trading away of Sale the move that jumpstarted the whole thing.

Half a year later, Quintana was shipped across town to the win-now Cubs. Fourteen months after that, Quintana faced his old mates for the first time at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The other big trade that’s gone heretofore unmentioned was the Adam Eaton deal, which brought back a trio of pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Lopez got the head-to-head matchup with Quintana on Friday to kick off the second Crosstown series of 2018, and while the Cubs and White Sox couldn’t be in more different spots in terms of competing for this season’s World Series title, it was Lopez who flashed why the White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was.

Lopez dominated the Cubs’ offense, the team that still owns the best record in the National League made to look completely incapable by the hard-throwing 24-year-old. He struck out eight batters in a lineup trying desperately to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central race. After Daniel Murphy led off the game with a solo homer, Lopez held the Cubs to a scattered quartet of hits over seven innings.

"Their pitcher was good. Give him some credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He threw the ball really well. I was watching him on video yesterday and even some this morning. He's got good stuff. His last three outings, he went seven, six and seven and he did it again, so a big part of why we didn't look so good was him. He was that good."

Indeed, it was the latest in a string of dominant starts Lopez is putting together to close out his first full major league season. The campaign hasn’t always gone smoothly for him, his ERA still above 4.00 when Friday began, but he’s finishing it off in a way that should have fans real excited for his long-term prospects. In his last five starts, he’s got a pencil-thin 0.79 ERA, a stretch that’s dropped his season ERA from 4.66 to 3.94.

“It’s very important for me,” Lopez said, through a team translator, of closing the season on such a strong note. “I set my goal to finish this season with my ERA below 4.00, and now I know my ERA is below that number. That’s all that I want to do. I want to finish the season strong and finish with my ERA below 4.00.

“When you see all the work that you have put in day in, day out to get that result have shown, you feel very satisfied. Because that's what you work for. You work to get good results. You work to get better and to perform. To be able to do that and to know that you're doing something like that, it's special and you feel good.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox offense did to Quintana what it could never do for him: scored a ton of runs.

Quintana’s recent stretch of high-quality starts came to an end — he entered with a 2.10 ERA in his previous six outings — as his former team touched him up for five runs on nine hits and chased him from the game before the first out of the sixth inning. All in all, the White Sox had one of their best offensive days of the season, pouring it on against the bullpen and finishing with 10 runs on 19 hits.

Quintana remains a very good pitcher, and he could very well help the Cubs to another championship. But instead of having just Sale and Quintana, the White Sox now have five or six or seven guys either here or developing in the minor leagues, Lopez being just one of them. The future will continue to be on display this weekend when Giolito and Carlos Rodon pitch in the second and third games against the Cubs.

Friday’s results are not to say that Lopez is a better pitcher than Quintana now or that he ever will be. But it was probably a little bit of vindication for the White Sox, a sign they made a good decision in pushing the rebuild button. The era of White Sox baseball in which Quintana pitched never ended in a postseason appearance. Hahn & Co. are hoping the era Lopez is pitching in ends in a championship.

Friday, at least, it ended in a win.