Jose Quintana almost made this conversation very easy, didn’t he? Almost. But not quite.
In his first outing since last September (can you believe that?), Jose Quintana came out firing bullets, hitting 92-93 MPH on his fastball for the first time in a long time, while dropping hammers in and out of the zone for easy strikes, swinging and called. He had a 1-2-3 frame in the 3rd inning. Another in the 4th. And although he ran into some hard contact in the 5th inning, he faced only four batters and no one ever reached second base (thanks in no small part to Willson Contreras’s arm).
The 6th inning complicated the narrative a little bit. Coming back out for his fourth inning of the evening, Quintana looked a little fatigued. His 92-93 MPH fastball was down to 90-91 and the hard contact that began in the 5th started finding grass. After a single, a double, an error, and a walk, Quintana’s outing was over. And thanks to the walk and grand slam allowed by Casey Sadler, who entered in relief, Quintana’s overall numbers were spoiled: 3.0 IP, 4H, 3ER, 1BB, 3Ks.
It was a frustrating end to what seemed like an absolute godsend, both in the near and medium-term. Before the 6th, the story (for Quintana) was everything you could hope for: Quintana had come in and given the Cubs a chance to win the game after Tyler Chatwood got knocked out before the end of the second during his moderately catastrophic first start back from the IL. And, hey, if Quintana looks this good maybe he can replace Chatwood in the rotation right away?
That was almost the conversation we got to have. Instead, the game got out of reach and we have some slightly tougher questions about what to do next.
Strictly speaking, it’s not too soon to *want* to install Quintana in the rotation in place of Tyler Chatwood. Because, as Brett discussed this morning, whether there are legitimate excuses for Chatwood’s performance or not, it’s too late in this 60-game season to allow guys to work through things when other options are available. Unfortunately, with a doubleheader this weekend *and* the fact that Quintana may not actually be fully stretched out yet (as evidenced by his declining velocity in the 6th) the decision isn’t really so easy.
Moreover, all things equal, the best version of this Cubs team probably features the higher upside Chatwood in the rotation and Quintana in the bullpen, where his velocity can play up, where he doesn’t have to face a lineup more than two times with just two primary pitches, and where his left-handedness can plug a big hole. That’s not to say he couldn’t have even more value as a starter if Chatwood is forced to return to the bullpen, but it’s not necessarily the ideal outcome. And that stinks.
But let’s try to look on the bright side, because for a few innings, Quintana did look good. That matters.
“Q looked great,” Manager David Ross said after the game. “Q looked really sharp, moving the ball in and out. The breaking ball was really good. He threw some nice cutters and changeups and backdoor breaking balls. He used both sides of the plate well. The velocity was there. That was nice to see. We hadn’t seen real velocity yet from him.”
The question now is what to do next. The immediate next.
For years the conversation surrounding both Quintana *and* Chatwood revolved around the long-term value they could provide, but now both guys are set to be free agents in about 1.5 months. The long-term no longer matters. Period. All the Cubs need to decide right now is who gives them the best chance to win the very next game, because in reality, there’s only about six starts remaining for that spot in the rotation (at this point, Alec Mills likely secured his spot). The Cubs will have some forced flexibility given that there’s a doubleheader on Saturday and another exactly one week after that, but there are a lot of important games left. At some point they’ll have to make a decision.
“I want to start games, and I want to help my team,” Quintana said. “It’s not about one or two good innings. It’s getting results and wanting to win. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the rotation. Like I said, I don’t know what’s (next) for me. But I’ll be ready for whatever situation Rossy needs me.”
For all the reasons we discussed above, I’m not yet ready to conclude who should be where, but the reality is the Cubs *will* need both of these guys to perform – be it in the bullpen or rotation – to ensure their ticket to the postseason. If neither one of them steps up, the trickle-down effects could really derail more games than just the ones they start.