No matter what Gleyber Torres does in the future, the trade for Aroldis Chapman has been forever legitimized thanks to a magical night in Cleveland in November 2016. Jose Quintana—at least until he similarly has a World Series title to celebrate with the Cubs—doesn’t have the same luxury. With every 972-ft home run Eloy Jimenez hits, the expectations for Jose Quintana will rise accordingly. Sure, Quintana is safely nestled into the fourth slot in the rotation, but if the left-handed trade-deadline prize were to pitch like anything close to a fourth starter, the torches and pitchforks will come out en masse. For Quintana, those crude instruments continue to remain in the barn.
What You Need To Know:
Sunday’s game started not unlike most Cubs games this season—the inability to cash in runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs, punctuated by the occasional home run (Zobrist in the fourth). Thanks to a dominant performance by Quintana across the first six innings (0 R, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K), the Cubs were able to leisurely extend their lead to 3-0 thanks to a double from Albert Almora in the fifth, and a questionable error on a Tommy La Stella grounder to first base in the sixth.
Jason Heyward continued having uncharacteristic difficulty in right field, overrunning a deep fly ball in the third inning, but fortunately was able to haul in a Ryan Braun 108-mph laser beam in the sixth with two runners on base that threatened to blow up Quintana’s outing, as well as the Cubs’ lead. Imagine the anarchy that will reign if Heyward isn’t playing gold glove defense. We think torches and pitchforks would come out for Quintana. Yikes.
The Cubs continued not driving in runners in scoring position with less than two outs after a one-out Willson Contreras triple in the eighth (the Cubs’ fifth straight game with a triple), but since the Cubs bullpen is currently a walking Cy Young conglomerate, three runs may as well have been the 20 the Phillies plastered onto the Marlins a day ago. Starter for six innings, lock-down bullpen for three. Just the way the Cubs like it. 3-0 Cubs.
The improved performance of Ben Zobrist has to be towards the top of the list of pleasant surprises of early 2018, and Zobrist continued that trend going 2-for-4 with a home run. Not only is he sporting a flashy .333/.440/.381 batting line, but a ludicrous 5.3% soft contact rate, making his excellent .368 BABIP entirely justified. If Zobrist approaches his career line of .263/.355/.438, that is money in the bank for an already deep Cubs offense that could probably use his on-base skill set.
Remember when the bullpen was the biggest question mark facing the 2018 Cubs? Yeah, I do too; it was like two weeks ago. Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards Jr., and Brandon Morrow combined for three innings, no hits, no walks, and three strikeouts. Just another day in the Cubs bullpen, and Eddie Butler didn’t even pitch. The bullpen now sports a collective 0.94 ERA.
Albert Almora definitely looks capable of handling lead-off duties. While he has a penchant for aggressively going after first pitches (like he did to lead off the game), he also had a walk and a hit, in addition to a strikeout on a full-count pitch –all against right-handed pitchers, against who he is reportedly weaker. If he’s playing high-quality center field to boot, he’s getting harder to ignore.
Top WPA Play:
Ben Zobrist’s solo home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead, continuing his rebellion against swirling washed-up claims. The pitching staff took care of the rest. (.119)
Bottom WPA Play:
A harmless lead-off double in the third inning by Jonathan Villar (the one Heyward overran), which was promptly followed up by a groundout, strikeout, and foul out. For a game that was very much within reach throughout, the Cubs pitching staff never let Milwaukee close. (-.066)
Up Next: The Cubs finally make their long-awaited return to the arctic tundra, currently known as Wrigley Field, starting their home schedule with a tilt against the suddenly threatening Pittsburgh Pirates.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports Images