The Chicago Cubs won 95 games this season – would-be tops in the NL – but thanks to a Ruthian-like September from Christian Yelich, the Milwaukee Brewers won 19(!) games in the last month of the season, including 9 of their past 10, and each of their last 7. So … here we are. At least this game is being played nice and early, so we don’t have to sweat it out for too long before we get there.
Speaking of which, the Brewers originally decided *not* to share their starting pitcher (it’s Jhoulys Chacin) with the world, in hopes of gaining whatever slight competitive edge they can for this one-game tie-breaker at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs made no such plans. Jose Quintana will be taking the ball this afternoon, and that wasn’t up for much debate.
At the most facile level, Quintana makes sense simply because he’s on normal rest and his spot in the rotation is due. Although there are many more convincing reasons to start him today, which we’ll get to here in a moment, I don’t want to underscore how much that matters. Pitchers are creatures of habit, and forcing a different guy in there off his regular rest, because you think he’ll be better, doesn’t always work out. So, yes: regular rest, regular schedule, consistency, etc. … it all adds up to Jose Quintana and that’s great.
But there’s more to it than that, and the Cubs no doubt coordinated the rotation over the past few weeks with this possibility in mind.
For one thing, Jose Quintana has been pretty darn good lately. With the exception of a blowup on the South Side of Chicago two games ago, Quintana has not allowed more than 2 earned runs in 7 of his last 8 starts. He hasn’t had particularly long outings throughout that stretch, but he has been striking out plenty and walking very few throughout. There are other encouraging numbers as well, but I’m building to something.
Perhaps most importantly today is Jose Quintana’s history against the Brewers. Even if we ignore Quintana’s pre-Cubs starts against Milwaukee (which were also quite good), his numbers against them have been dazzling since coming to the Cubs (52.1 IP): 1.89 ERA, 24.6% strikeout rate, 7.0% walk rate. He’s also gotten the Brewers to hit grounders 47.4% of the time and has limited hard contact to a slightly below average 32.1% (which is good).
He did get blown up by them once this season (back in the middle of August), but he rallied right back with an impressive start against them the very next time they met. Indeed, of the six starts he’s made against the Brewers this season, four have ranked among his best 10 starts of the season by game score, including three of his top four, two of which were played at Wrigley Field:
- MIL April 28: 81 Game Score
- @CIN May 19: 77 Game Score
- MIL September 11: 75 Game Score
- @MIL April 8: 70 Game Score
- @PHI August 31: 70 Game Score
- @NYM May 31: 70 Game Score
- @SFG July 10: 67 Game Score
- PHI June 6: 66 Game Score
- @MIL September 5: 63 Game Score
- SDP August 3: 63 Game Score
For reference: Quintana also faced the Brewers in Milwaukee on 6/11 (47 GS, 15th) and on 8/14 in Chicago (26, 28th).
But if your next thought isn’t some version of “Holy crap … Quintana has faced the Brewers SIX (!) times this season?!” then you are not appropriately prone to freak-outs, and you should work on that.
That is an incredibly high number of times to face the same team in a single season, and requires some seriously weird scheduling destiny – it means, of the six series between these teams this year, Quintana happens to have appeared in all of them. And remember, today’s game #163 is technically a “regular season” game, which means Quintana will have faced the Brewers a stunning SEVEN times this season. That’s nuts.
In fact, get this: having realized that he’ll have faced the Brewers with unusual frequency this year, I reached out to Christopher Kamka on Twitter (the guy with all quirky and enigmatic stats) to see just how rare it is. And he told me that while 15 pitchers are tied with Quintana with six starts against the same team this season, he’ll be the only guy with seven after today. And on top of that, he’ll be the first guy to face the same team seven times in the same season since Carl Pavano did it back in 2009, but he did it for two different teams because he was traded mid-season.
Obviously, that still counts, but it’s not exactly the same thing. And as it turns out, the last guy to do it like Quintana (facing one team 7 times from the same squad) was Luis Tiant of the Red Sox all the way back in 1974! And for the Cubs, specifically:
Quintana is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 6 starts vs Brewers this year. He's 1st #Cubs pitcher to face a team 7 times in same season since Don Cardwell faced the Giants 7 times in 1961 (thanks to Ed Hartig)
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 1, 2018
Pretty wild. But is that a good thing? Well, it could go both ways.
On the one hand, there are all those numbers up there about how well Quintana has performed against this group of Brewers. That’s good. Even NL MVP Christian Yelich has struggled mightily against Quintana this year.
On the other hand, that is so much exposure to a pitcher in a short period of time.
In any one game, a starting pitcher tends to get worse each time the lineup turns over, and Quintana is no exception. Sure, some of that is due to fatigue that day, but facing the same guy over and over offers serious advantages for a hitter. And although those advantages are usually reset by the next time you face a team – a player can remember only so much – I think it’s safe to say Quintana’s historically high number of starts against the Brewers this season might leave him as a bit of an outlier.
So what I’m getting at is sure, he’s had a ton of success against the Brewers this season, but how many times is too many times to face the same team before they simply know what you’ve got/how you’ll attack them/when to lay off/etc.?
Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question – and maybe you can’t know. Also, it’s important to point out that it’s not as though Quintana can’t also use his experiences against the Brewers to his own advantage. It’s just that I can’t tell you for sure which way the scale is tipping today.
So be happy that Quintana has had success against this team in the recent past – it’s decidedly better than the alternative (i.e. they’ve blown him up every time they’ve met) – but be wary of how much that previous success will translate in a historic seventh start against them this afternoon. At best, my admittedly nervous gut tells me it’s a push.
Also, because Brett likes to be a negative nelly, here’s this reminder about what you can realistically hope to get out of Quintana, even if he dominates the Brewers again for a stretch:
To the extent Jose Quintana is cruising today through five and then gets pulled, just remember Quintana's HUGE bugaboo this year: pic.twitter.com/ltBrFQyFrr
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) October 1, 2018