When Joe Maddon went to take the ball from Kyle Hendricks last night (this morning?) against the Nationals, one thought went through my mind: Will it be Jose Quintana?
Hendricks had gone just four innings, so there was a lot of (high-leverage) runway left in the game, and we had just seen the Cubs pull a piggyback move with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in Game Four.
Instead, Maddon turned to his bullpen early and often – Brian Duensing got two outs, Pedro Strop threw an inning, Mike Montgomery got an out, and Carl Edwards Jr. walked a guy before leaving without anything to show for it – all before finally bringing Quintana in.
Although the move worked out in the end, as Quintana recorded two outs and left healthy, it was a less than desirable call to the pen at that point in the game. All four playoff starters have now pitched in Games 4 or 5 and that doesn’t leave a lot of rest before Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday.
Fortunately, on that front, the Cubs may have caught a lucky break:
Jose Quintana expected to start Game 1 Saturday against Kershaw. Cubs to finalize plans Friday. Theo said Thurs. relief like a side session.
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) October 13, 2017
Early, early word out of this celebration is Quintana could be the guy on Saturday. Theo: "Was like a bullpen session for him."
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) October 13, 2017
OK, well, whew!
Apparently, in his celebratory postgame interviews – grain of salt necessary? – Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein suggested that Jose Quintana could indeed start Game One of the NLCS against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Saturday.
Now, to be sure, Joe Maddon offer input on something like this, but the front office and coaching staff are almost always on the same page – at least, publicly. I have to believe even an over-joyed Epstein wouldn’t have let something like this slip out had he not previously discussed it “in theory” with Maddon.
In any case, as you can see by the tweets, Quintana’s 12 pitch appearance may have been efficient enough to let him go on Saturday on normal-ish rest. But there are a couple wrinkles.
Jose Quintana threw a bullpen session and 12 game pitches. Not far from the ordinary rest. He should be good to go for Game 1 of the NLCS.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 13, 2017
I’m not sure if Emma is suggesting that Quintana threw his regular bullpen session, warmed up, and then threw his 12 live-game pitches, or if he’s counting the warm up as a pseudo bullpen session. If it’s the former, a start on Saturday is less likely (even if it’s still possible). If it’s the latter, however, then, yeah, sure, there’s no real reason he couldn’t start on Saturday (besides the fact that it wasn’t just 12 pitches, it was 12 high-stress pitches, but I think that’s still OK).
Secondly, it’s not a done deal, because the Cubs have one more starter theoretically available:
Maddon says no decision on Game 1 starter for NLCS. He confirms John Lackey in mix but Jose Quintana threw only 12 pitches. He could go.
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) October 13, 2017
Did you forget John Lackey was around, too? He was even on the NLDS roster!
In my opinion, Lackey probably won’t get the ball in Game One, but it would be silly to not consider him. He pitched well in the second half, has plenty of experience, and is perfectly well-rested. You could even plan to piggyback him with someone like Mike Montgomery after 3-4 innings, and given their different pitching arms and style, that might even be a pretty attractive idea.
On top of that, it would give every other pitcher an extra day of rest, theoretically improving the quality of the starts they do make once they make them. The downside, of course, is that it would create the possibility that Lackey would start twice in the NLCS, and that’s where you start to lose value. The difference between a Lackey/Montgomery piggyback and one of the other starters for one game might be small, but that margin gets bigger when the sample gets larger.
So while that’s probably on the table, my best bet is that Jose Quintana takes the ball for the Cubs on Saturday, and is followed by Jon Lester on Sunday. From there, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks will take Games Three and Four in some order. They may not be extremely well-rested, but they are the Cubs’ best arms.
You can probably expect an announcement sometime today or early tomorrow. We’ll keep ya posted.