After blowing an opportunity to take a 2-0 lead in the NLDS on Saturday, the Cubs will now face Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals at Wrigley field later today.
Obviously, the Cubs are still in really good shape with the series tied 1-1 and the next two scheduled at home, but the prospect of facing the presumed 2017 NL Cy Young Award winner – even if he’s marginally injured – is not too enticing. But hey, the Nationals have no easy track either.
For their own part, the Nats will get a starter of whom they’ve seen very little, and who has had great success with the Cubs. Jose Quintana may not be Max Scherzer but he’s sure been very awesome for the Cubs since heading to the North Side of Chicago after the All-Star break earlier this year.
Since the All-Star break (i.e. his time with the Cubs), Jose Quintana has been worth 2.0 fWAR, which is 13th best in all of baseball. And while his 3.74 ERA during that stretch ranks 30th, his 3.25 FIP is among the top ten. But there’s more to it than that.
Thanks to a ridiculous stretch at the end of the season that saw him strikeout 45 batters against just 4 walks over 6 games, Quintana’s earned a 28.3% strikeout rate (10th in MLB) with just a 6.1% walk rate (16th). As you can imagine, then, his 4.67 K/BB ratio in the second half is eighth best in baseball, one spot ahead of Chris Archer and two spots ahead of Madison Bumgarner. In other words, he’s among the very best at dominating games on his own without the help of his defense, and these are especially important qualities in frequently-tight postseason games.
But Quintana doesn’t solely rely on limiting walks and racking up strikeout totals to get through a lineup (well, it certainly doesn’t hurt …), he’s also limited the hits, as well: .227 AVG – 12th in baseball. On top of that, he’s been among the top 30 pitchers in ground ball rate and the top 16 in fly ball rate since the middle of July. That’s a fantastic combination of statistics. And in case you were wondering, he’s done all of this with very career-normal BABIP and strand rates.
And once more, he was even better over the last month of the season. Through his five September starts, Quintana earned a 2.51 ERA with an even more impressive 1.98 FIP. His strikeout rate during that stretch ballooned to 28.1%, while his walk rate dropped down even further to 3.1%. And maybe you can see where this is going, but, yes, also during this stretch: his ground ball rate increased and his fly ball rate decreased.
Basically, in every way, Jose Quintana has been awesome in the second half as a whole, and he’s been even better in the last month of the year. And that’s a great way to sprint into the playoffs.
Quintana does have some significant lefty/right splits, with lefties struggling to do much of anything (.252 wOBA), while righties have a chance (.314 wOBA), but with Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper as two of the most potent bats in the Nationals’ lineup, that’s not a terrible set of splits to have.
In any case, with plenty of rest, and a lineup anchored by two lefties, and a dominant second half of the season, Quintana should be quite the match for the Nationals this afternoon, regardless of who they send to the mound.