When Jose Quintana notched a crucial win against the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday night, it gave the Chicago Cubs breathing room in a tight division race and some much-needed affirmation.
Quintana’s performance in the 3-0 win was a gem, pitching 6.2 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts. Despite a solid 13-9 record and 3.97 ERA this season, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for him.
While he’s pitched like a reliable starter in the rotation, expectations were higher following last summer’s trade. After all, the Cubs shipped top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to the Chicago White Sox to land Quintana.
Before he arrived on the north side, Cub fans knew they were getting a pitcher who at the very least could eat innings and be a steady presence on the mound. During his five-year tenure with the White Sox, Quintana racked up a 3.51 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and 105 quality starts in 169 starts. He also managed to eclipse 200 innings in four straight seasons on the south side.
Those numbers were impressive, especially for an American League pitcher who never seemed to get enough run support. The fact he finished with a 50-54 record in his White Sox career was somewhat remarkable.
While he’ll never be mistaken for a flame-throwing ace, he has the pitching arsenal and mental makeup to be a high-end No. 3 or, if everything is clicking, a solid second starter. Given his team-friendly contract and the logjam of young position players on the Cubs’ roster, the trade seemed reasonable in 2017.
But with an erratic starting staff and the emergence of Cease and Jimenez in the White Sox farm system in 2018, it’s only shined the spotlight brighter on the 29-year-old lefty. There were moments this year where Quintana was uncharacteristically shaky, making it fair to question the trade.
He not only struggled against lineups a second or third time through the order, but he also got rocked a few times coming out of the gate. There were two brutal losses in early August where Quintana seemed like he was ready to drop off a cliff. He surrendered 10 earned runs in 11.1 innings in back-to-back starts against the Kansas City Royals and Brewers.
Whether it was inconsistency or pressure of living up to expectations, something seemed out of sorts. Even with the Cubs getting ace-caliber performances from Cole Hamels and solid outings from Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, a shaky Quintana still would be disastrous down the stretch.
Fortunately, Quintana has been money lately, and we’re starting to see why the front office pulled the trigger last summer. He’s 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his last five starts, which featured two crucial wins against the rival Brewers.
The Quintana you’re seeing now can be a valuable arm down the stretch and in any postseason series. If you’re expecting an ace or elite-level No. 2 starter, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, that wasn’t the intention Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer acquired him. The front office was looking to add a reliable, cost-controlled arm.
His contract can’t be ignored when evaluating him. He is making just under $9 million this season and has a $10.5 team option in 2019 and $11.5 million team option in 2020. That’s a bargain compared to most of the starting pitcher market, and his yearly salaries don’t handcuff the Cubs from making more moves.
There has been a growing narrative that Quintana can’t handle pitching for a contender like the Cubs. If you think he’s some choke artist incapable of competing on contending squad, you aren’t accurate.
In his 14 starts following the 2017 All-Star break, he was 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 9 quality starts. Quintana had a solid September that year that included a complete game shutout in a vital 5-0 win over the Brewers.
Some point to his poor start in Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS as proof that he can’t handle high-stake situations. While the Los Angeles Dodgers rocked him for six running in just two innings that game, Quintana had pitched well in Game 3 of the NLDS and admirably on short rest in Game 1 of the NLCS. Besides, everyone on the roster aside from Jake Arrieta had a rough NLCS.
If you wanted to see him come through in high-stake situations, then you can’t ignore this current stretch. He’s risen to the occasion, halting the Brewers from gaining more ground or overtaking the Cubs in the division standings.
That’s all you can ask from your starters. If he continues to pitch at this current pace, then the Cubs could have a very formidable staff during the stretch run and into October.