Can Jose Quintana handle playoff pressure? Cubs will get answer early in Game 3


CHICAGO — There’s just one issue for the Chicago Cubs when it comes to lefty Jose Quintana taking the ball for his first career playoff start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Monday afternoon.

Being too ready.

“My only concern with a guy like him is that he’s going to try to do too much, too soon, and you don’t want to leave it out there and all of a sudden have to come back,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday afternoon. “If he can get out there and get into that original rhythm, spotting it up, that kind of rhythm, he has a really good chance to pitch as well as you saw him.”

In other words, the Cubs don’t want Quintana’s adrenaline going too hard, too early, forcing him to scale back in order to find his command and end up on an emotional roller coaster. It’s been a little bit of an issue this year for one of the newest Cubs, especially since being acquired at mid-season. His 5.62 first-inning ERA combined with a 6.19 mark in the second are good indicators of his early struggles just as his 1.71 ERA in the third inning shows what he’s all about once he settles in. It won’t be easy with a Wrigley Field crowd that has been waiting since Game 5 of last year’s World Series for another chance to cheer during the postseason.

Quintana was asked about being too hyper as the teams begin a best-of-three series after each won a game in Washington.

“That’s a good question,” Quintana responded. “I just go try and get focused, pitch by pitch. You know, control my emotions every time. I think that’s the huge part for me, especially when it’s my first time here.”

Quintana has made no secret he wanted to play for a winner and pitch in big games. He did that throughout the second half as the Cubs surged into first place. He had a rocky handful of starts but finished the season strong, highlighted by a complete-game shutout in Milwaukee in September, which essentially knocked the Brewers out of contention for the division crown. That’s when Maddon began to fully believe in his new pitcher.

“God, he had a great look,” Maddon stated. “I can only tell you — we’re all into reading people’s faces and their vibe and their energy and all that stuff. And he had it. He has it. My only concern is that he’s over-amped a little bit too much, too soon tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.”

Why all the talk about being too amped up? Because if Quintana manages his emotions, as well as his command, he’ll have a great chance to get a somewhat free turn through the Nationals lineup. He’s never faced them, and only a few have at-bats against him while playing for other teams. None have last names of Harper, Rendon, Murphy or Zimmerman.

“There’s an advantage if he’s making his pitches,” Maddon said.

Quintana added: “John Lackey told me the last couple days, just try to do your job. Just hit your spots and never change. The game’s the same and you’re going to feel the energy around you, so it’s really exciting. I’ve never seen games like this, and it’s really fun.”

Will that excitement translate to a solid effort or will Nationals Cy Young winner Max Scherzer steal the headlines? He’s declared himself ready to throw at least 100 pitches coming off a hamstring ailment, and he will certainly be a storyline entering the game, but that complete-game effort by Quintana against the Brewers in a pennant race, combined with his debut masterpiece for his new team against the Baltimore Orioles in July, illustrate just how good the lefty can be.

“The best thing is when he came in, he fit right into what we were doing,” teammate Kyle Schwarber said. “He talks to everyone. He’s not shy. He wants to be a good teammate. … To be able to come over to us and have that as a weapon in the starting rotation is unbelievable.”

Quintana used that same word to describe what’s ahead of him Monday afternoon. In fact, he called pitching at Wrigley Field in the postseason a “blessing.” Now he just has to rein in his emotions to reach his max potential.

“It’s a huge game for me,” Quintana said with a smile. “I think it’s a huge opportunity, too. And for the first time (in the playoffs), I’m really excited to get this opportunity, and I appreciate that.”

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