Through his first five starts of the 2018 season, Chicago Cubs’ left-hander Jose Quintana posted a 5.74 ERA, while walking 12 batters and allowing 26 hits. That stretch of play, however, was followed by a 3.09 ERA in May, and more recently, a 1.89 ERA over his last three starts (19 innings).
Quintana’s last three starts prior to Saturday had quite possibly been the best the southpaw has been since coming over from the White Sox last winter.
Despite that, the Cardinals rolled easily over the Cubs on Saturday by a score of 6-2.
In the 29-year-old’s last start, a seven-inning outing, Quintana tossed 121 pitches, the highest of the season for the left-hander. Despite having an extra day of rest, Quintana came out flat on Saturday, perhaps due to his increased workload last week.
Whatever the reason, the left-hander simply was not good against the St. Louis Cardinals. After dropping the series opener a night previous, the Cubs hoped Quintana would continue his dominant ways. That, however, could not have been further from the truth.
Entering play, Quintana was sporting a 10.9 percent walk rate on the season. That number, if it holds, would be the highest of Quintana’s career, one in which the left-hander has posted a 6.9 percent walk rate prior to this season.
In the first inning of play on Saturday, it was the free pass that got Quintana into trouble. Sure, back-to-back singles from Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina didn’t help, but two walks later, the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead.
To go along with his increased walk rate this season, Quintana has had problems with the long-ball. Prior to play on Saturday, the left-hander owned a HR/9 rate of 1.20, which tops his previous high of 1.10 set last year.
With a run already in on Saturday, it was the home run that once again bit Quintana. A grand slam by Marcell Ozuna on a 3-2 curveball put the Cardinals firmly ahead by a score of 5-0.
As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, Quintana did not record an out until 34 pitches into the ball game, a strikeout of Tommy Pham, one batter after Ozuna’s grand slam. For good measure, the Cardinals tacked on another run, making it 6-0 and capping off a 51-pitch first inning for Quintana.
Obviously, that prolonged first inning greatly impacted the rest of the left-hander’s start, as Quintana was lifted for a pinch-hitter after three innings. His final line looked like this: three innings, six hits, six earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts on 74 pitches.
Quintana’s brief outing once again put strain on a Cubs’ bullpen that has eaten the fifth most innings (385.2) in the National League. While the bullpen has been solid for much of the year, posting a 3.27 ERA (second lowest in the NL), this pace cannot continue if the Cubs hope to have an effective bullpen for the postseason.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cubs were shut down for the second straight day by good starting pitching. A day after Luke Weaver overcame his struggles against the Cubs and scattered two runs over six innings, Miles Mikolas got in on the action.
Since signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals this past offseason after spending the last three seasons playing overseas, Mikolas has been one of the better pitchers in the NL (fourth best ERA entering play).
On Saturday, the 29-year-old right-hander continued with his success.
Through the first two innings, Mikolas allowed just one base runner, a Jason Heyward walk in the first. That runner was quickly erased by an inning-ending ground out, leaving the Cubs with zero chances to climb back into the game in the early going.
In the fourth, however, the Cubs breathed their first signs of life. Heyward reached for the second time of the game, this time on a one-out single into left field. Javier Baez backed that up by whacking a two-run home run into the right field seats, putting the Cubs on the board. That home run gives Baez 21 on the year and sets a new career-high in RBI for the 25-year-old at 77.
With two-plus months of the season left, Baez has a great chance to eclipse 100 RBI in what has been an MVP-caliber season for the youngster.
Baez’s home run in the fourth would prove to be the only runs the Cubs would score on Saturday. For the second straight day, the Cardinals’ bullpen worked three scoreless innings in relief of their starting pitcher. This time, it was Mikolas who was on the receiving end of that solid work. Mikolas’ final line looked like this: six innings, six hits, two earned runs, one walk and two strikeouts on 90 pitches.
With their second straight loss, the Cubs fall to 60-44 while the Cardinals improve to 53-51 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will wrap-up their three-game set with the Cardinals on Sunday, July 29 at 7:00 p.m. at Busch Stadium. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be right-hander Kyle Hendricks (6-9, 4.05 ERA). Hendricks has rebounded nicely in July after posting a 7.03 ERA across 24.1 innings during the month of June.
Through five starts this month, the right-hander is sporting a 3.54 ERA and has struck out 25 batters to five walks over 28 innings.
Opposing Hendricks on the mound Sunday will be right-hander John Gant (3-3, 3.44 ERA). Gant’s last start of the season came on July 21 against the Cubs, a start in which the 25-year-old shut down the North Sider’s bats. Over five innings, Gant limited the Cubs to four hits and zero runs, striking out two batters and walking three. On Sunday, Gant will look to continue that success in his home ballpark.
Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: NBC Sports