With the Chicago Cubs’ 5-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon, their magic number for clinching a playoff spot in the National League is at just two games. They have Jose Quintana to thank for a chance to clinch in St. Louis this week.
The lefty, who was acquired from the White Sox in July, was a master class against the Brewers. Quintana pitched a complete-game shutout, holding Milwaukee to just three hits and striking out ten batters in perhaps the most definitive outing of the season from any Cubs pitcher.
His fastball command was excellent, and he worked the strike zone, coming inside to right-handed batters and used his changeup effectively against lefties. Despite some struggles in August, Quintana’s performance today capped a string of five starts in which he has a combined ERA of 2.14. Sunday was a reminder of why the Cubs paid such a steep price for him in the first place, and to do it under the given circumstances proved that Quintana possesses elite caliber as a starter. In fact, this potential should indeed make him a viable option for one of the top two spots in the playoff rotation.
Jon Lester simply hasn’t had it as of late, as evidenced by his shortened outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. The usual bulldog mentality Lester shows has been somewhat absent, which brings a lot of questions about his own spot in the playoff rotation. For his part, Jake Arrieta has shown glimpses (including winning Pitcher of the Month in the N.L. in August), but he’s only just coming off the disabled list that sidelined him for much of September.
With this in mind, it’s clear that manager Joe Maddon must give consideration to moving Quintana and Kyle Hendricks up in the playoff rotation. Especially with the way Quintana has pitched as of late, his performance merits the most consideration. The Cubs are on a collision course to face the Washington Nationals, a team filled with left-handed bats such as Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. The Cubs could make a strong statement by stealing a game in Washington, D.C., and throwing Quintana in Game 1 might just be the best shot for the Cubs in that regard.