It has been a little less than two calendar years since the Chicago Cubs shipped prized prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease across town to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana.
Quintana, who immediately stepped into the starting rotation for the Cubs, had amassed a track record of consistency while a member of some pretty bad White Sox clubs. From 2012 to 2016, Quintana posted a 3.41 ERA across 951 innings, working at least 200 frames each of those seasons except for his rookie campaign of 2012.
That consistency coupled with the Cubs’ need for a starting pitcher and Quintana’s club control through 2020 led to the North Siders pulling the trigger on a trade that helped gut their farm system.
While the level of talent yielded in order to gain Quintana’s services was critiqued at the time of the trade, it was magnified even more as Jimenez and Cease racked up accolades in the Sox’s system as Quintana struggled at times with his new club.
Q’s first 14 starts with the Cubs during the second half of the 2017 campaign gave fans a taste of what to expect from the veteran hurler. Across 84.1 innings, Quintana posted a 3.74 ERA while posting the highest K/9 rate (10.5) of his career. That elevated strikeout rate was also coupled with a drop in walk rate for the left-hander. Prior to joining the Cubs in 2017, Quintana had averaged 3.5 free passes per game, a number that dropped to 2.2 following the trade.
Perhaps as a precursor to would be his worst season to date in 2018, Quintana was roughed up in his first taste of post-season action in ’17. While his 6.1 frames of three-hit ball against the Washington Nationals in the NLDS ultimately helped the Cubs clinch that series, Quintana’s two outings in the NLCS did nothing to inspire.
Across those two starts, Quintana lasted a combined seven innings, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits as the Los Angeles Dodgers needed just five games to dispatch the Cubs from contention.
As touched on above, Quintana was not able to carry his stellar second half performance in 2017 into the 2018 season, resulting in the southpaw posting the lowest ERA-plus (103 of his career). Contributing to that lackluster number was once again Quintana’s struggles with the free pass.
After controlling his walk rate between his two clubs in 2017, turning in a 7.7 percent mark, the left-hander elevated that mark to 9.2 percent across 174.1 innings in his first full season with his new club.
That number did not bode well for Quintana as his lofty walk rate and less-than-average strikeout rate (21.4 percent) culminated in a 4.43 FIP, a number that was almost half a run higher than his 4.03 ERA for the 2018 season.
Despite his rough peripheral numbers, Quintana’s batted ball profile remained largely in-check with what he had amassed prior to joining the Cubs. The one thing that did drop, however, was Quintana’s soft contact rate, a number that fell to 15.9 percent in 2018 after sitting around 18 percent in each of the previous two seasons. As a result, Quintana saw small up-ticks in both his medium and hard contact numbers, with the latter registering at 33.1 percent, a career high for the veteran.
Coming off what many considered to be Quintana’s worst season, the southpaw figured to be a key member of the Cubs’ starting rotation. With Jon Lester aging and uncertainty surrounding Yu Darvish and his effectiveness, Quintana would need to step-up in 2019 and return to his consistent ways.
Through four outings (three starts) prior to play on Tuesday, however, it had been somewhat of a mixed bag for the lefty. Pitching in relief on March 30, Quintana worked four spotless innings against the Texas Rangers, yielding just four hits and two unearned runs. Needing 81 pitches to do so, Quintana recorded eight strikeouts and three walks, helping to clean up what was a rough start for Darvish.
Pushed back to April 5 for his first start of 2019, Quintana was working on normal rest in Milwaukee against a very familiar Brewers club. Entering that game, Quintana had amassed a 1.62 ERA against the Brewers over 72.1 innings, numbers good enough for the Cubs to pitch the southpaw in Game 163 against Milwaukee last season.
Unfortunately for the Cubs and Quintana, the Brewers seem to have finally solved the riddle surrounding the hurler. On April 5, Milwaukee teed off on Quintana, scoring eight earned runs on eight hits and hitting three home runs in just three innings, ultimately winning the contest 13-10.
In baseball, it’s crazy to see just how quickly guys can make adjustments and recover from bad outings. For Quintana, that is exactly what he did, learning from the mistakes made in that start and taking those lessons with him.
Since that horrible outing and prior to play on Tuesday, Quintana made two starts, each lasting seven innings and each resulting in the opposing team scoring zero runs. Facing Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins clubs that do not feature the same offensive fire-power as the Brewers, Quintana was able to scatter 10 hits over two starts and 14 innings while striking out a combined 18 batters versus just one walk.
That last statement is perhaps the most important for the southpaw. With those stellar performances, Quintana entered Tuesday’s game sporting a 31.5 percent strikeout rate and 7.6 percent walk rate, the latter of which is completely in-line with his career norms. Q’s strikeout rate, however, is more than 10 percent higher than his career average of 21.2 percent, something the Cubs will gladly take as they feature a pitching staff that sometimes struggles with garnering strikeouts.
Diving deeper into Quintana’s start to the 2019 season shows us that the southpaw is featuring many more ground balls that in previous seasons. Coming into 2019, Quintana had amassed a 44.3 percent ground ball, a number that has shot up to 51.9 percent entering play on Tuesday while his fly ball rate sat at 24.1 percent, 10 percent lower than his career mark.
Having turned more into a ground ball pitcher his season, it’s fine that Quintana has allowed a 43.6 percent hard contact rate, a mark that would be 13.5 percent higher than his career figure if it holds.
Fortunately, that number is a bit inflated considering all the hard contact Quintana allowed against the Brewers and the lack of it since.
As the Cubs welcomed the Dodgers into town, Quintana looked to extend his streak of lasting at seven innings. Even with the Dodgers featuring one of baseball top offenses in terms of wRC-plus, Quintana was able to make pretty short work of a lineup that struggles against left-handed pitching.
When facing left-handed pitching this season, the Dodgers are sporting a 116 wRC-plus, a number that shoots up to 126 with a right-hander on the mound.
While the Dodgers are still easily an above average offense with a southpaw on the mound, they were completely out of sorts against Quintana on Tuesday.
Through the first two innings of play, that was evident as Quintana faced just one batter above the minimum while garnering two ground ball outs and another two in the air. In addition, the southpaw racked up two strikeouts, both coming of the swinging variety and both coming on back-to-back batters in the second frame.
Quickly, it was apparent that Quintana had all of his pitches working, including his change-up which he has worked to feature more in his starts. Entering play, however, Quintana was throwing the pitch just 9.2 percent of the time, a mark that was in-line with his career percentage but more than two percent higher than 2018’s total.
Nevertheless, Quintana used his change-up to work off both his four-seam and sinking fastball, tossing it 13 times over 114 pitches, or 11.4 percent of the time.
While still not a lot, in was clear that Quintana’s ability to control his change-up made his fastball play better, something that was made even more effective with the control displayed from the southpaw.
Of his 114 offerings, 71 went for strikes as Quintana walked just two batters, running his total to three over the same number of outings spanning 21 innings.
If you are able to do simple math, you know that Quintana lasted seven innings on Tuesday, further extending his run of dominance after a rough outing in Milwaukee.
Through the first four innings, the Dodgers had just two hits, one of which plated a run for the visiting club in the third inning. A double off the bat of Justin Turner scored a lead-off walk that reached base due to a questionable strike zone from home plate umpire Ted Barrett.
Despite allowing five batters to step to the plate in the third, Quintana bounced back in the fourth, sitting down the heart of the Dodgers’ order with ease.
As the innings ticked away, Quintana began racking up the strikeouts, recording one in each of the fifth and sixth innings.
Stuck on five punch-outs entering in the seventh inning, the southpaw was able to record his sixth as he retired Corey Seager swinging to lead-off the frame. That strikeout, however, was followed by back-to-back hits by the Dodgers, but it was a run-scoring ground out that plated Los Angeles’ second tally of the game.
With the Dodgers still threatening in the seventh, Quintana earned a generous call from Barrett behind the plate, leaving Max Muncy looking at an offering that put seven in the books for the left-hander.
All told, Quintana induced nine swinging strikes on his 114 offerings for a 7.9 percent swinging strike percentage, a number that was almost half his 13.3 percent mark in the same statistic entering play.
With the being said, “Q” garnered 22 called strikes on the evening, including eight with his sinker, a testament to the control featured from the Cubs’ side of the rubber.
Quintana’s final like looked like this: seven innings, four hits, two earned runs, two walks and seven strikeouts on 114 pitches, lowering his season ERA to 3.21.
Offensively, the Cubs gave fans exactly what they wanted after they watched their team score just two runs over the last two contests. While one of those contests was a win, it was nice to see the Cubs quickly jump all over Kenta Maeda on Tuesday.
Featuring a patient approach at the plate (once again), the Cubs showed why they entered play with the fourth highest team walk rate at 11.1 percent. In the first inning, the Cubs drew three free passes, the first two of which helped to load the bases with two outs.
Batting out of the six-hole in Joe Maddon‘s lineup, Willson Contreras stepped to the dish with his 1.179 OPS and 199 OPS-plus. Those numbers where helped along by Contreras’ four doubles and of course six home runs. In the first inning on Tuesday, Contreras added to that first total, ripping a two-out, two strike double into the left field corner, plating all three runners and giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead early.
Not to be upstaged by his teammate, Daniel Descalso followed with an opposite-field double of his own, running the score 4-0 Cubs through the first seven batters of the game.
Judging by how dominant Quintana was on the mound, four runs would be all the Cubs needed, even when the Dodgers rallied in the seventh and eighth innings. Nevertheless, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez made sure the Cubs had enough runs, sending home runs out of the park in the second and seventh innings respectively.
Both Rizzo’s and Baez’s blasts went to the opposite fields but Anthony’s was a two-run bomb, stretching the Cubs’ lead to 6-0 in the second frame.
Baez’s seventh home run of the season gave the Cubs their seventh run of the game in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s match-up.
With their seven runs on eight hits, two clutch base knocks with runners in scoring position and Quintana’s sparkling outing on the mound, the Cubs were able to easily defeat the Dodgers by a score of 7-2.
The Cubs’ sixth win in their last seven contests move the overall record to 11-10 while the Dodgers fall to 15-10 on the season.
Next Up for the Cubs
The Cubs will continue their three-game set with the Dodgers on Wednesday at 7:05 pm at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be left-hander Cole Hamels (3-0, 2.77 ERA). Over his last three outings, the veteran left-hander has been at the top of his game.
Across 21 innings, Hamels has allowed just three earned runs on 13 hits while striking out 19 and failing to yield a free pass. That equates to a 1.29 ERA for Hamels during the month of April as he is also sporting a 0.85 WHIP for the 2019 campaign.
Opposing Hamels on the mound Wednesday will be right-hander Walker Buehler (2-0, 5.40 ERA). In his last outing, the young righty turned in his best start of the season. On April 17 against the Cincinnati Reds, Buehler allowed just three hits and one unearned run across 6.1 innings while recording eight strikeouts and issuing just one walk.
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