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Can Quintana Get the Cubs Over the Top This Season?

The Chicago Cubs have made a marquee trade to bolster their starting pitching, acquiring Jose Quintana from crosstown rivals White Sox for a package of prospects. There’s no doubt that Quintana is a quality pitcher. But can he revive the Cubs’ the season and help them overtake the surprising Brewers in the National League Central Division?

The Cubs have been lackluster this season. At the time of writing, they own a record of 48-45 and trail the Brewers by 2.5 games in the division and are 5.5 back of the Rockies in the wild card race. They have won their first five games since the All-Star Break, while the Brewers have lost their last three. That streak has included a stellar debut for Quintana, who went 7 scoreless with 3 hits, while striking out 12 against the Orioles in Camden Yards. The offense spotted the southpaw six runs, including four in the second inning. His next start is not yet scheduled, but it should be this Saturday at home against Wainwright and the Cardinals.

So is Quintana’s debut a good omen for the Cubs moving forward? Or is it a false hope for a team that will continue to battle for the second wild card spot?

At least in the short term, it seems the trade itself has rejuvenated this Cubs squad. They swept the also disappointing Orioles on the road, and have so far beaten the Braves twice in Atlanta. They’ll go for a second straight sweep Wednesday. During their impressive start to the second half, they've hit 13 home runs en route to 36 runs. They've only allowed 15 runs, 8 of those during their first game back.

But what of the long run? Can Quintana cure the Cubs hangover and lead them to a division title? Can he kickstart the Cubs back into the pennant conversation alongside the Nationals and Dodgers? I would lean yes on the division question, though the Brewers have yet to counter with a trade of their own. As surprising as the Brewers have been, they have not run away from the other lackluster teams in the Central. The Cubs with this latest run are within striking distance.

Jose Quintana provides stability to an otherwise questionable rotation. Jon Lester has shown to be on the backside of a successful career. His 4.07 ERA is far from ideal as well as his .255 batting average against. Jake Arrieta has regressed to a form that isn’t bad, but is far from his Cy Young form we saw in 2015 and early 2016. Still, his ERA remains a shade over 4.00 at this point. John Lackey has not worked out as the Cubs had hoped. His ERA hovers over 5.00 and opponents are hitting .264 off him. He is also issuing nearly 3 walks per 9 IP and giving up just over 2 home run per 9. Kyle Hendricks hasn't pitched since June 4 due to a hand injury. Before that, last year’s ERA champ and Cy Young runner-up carried an ERA of (yet again) over 4.00. Brett Anderson is doing what Brett Anderson does best, be hurt. Mike Montgomery hasn’t brought much to the rotation either. On the South Side of town, Quintana pitched to a 4.49 ERA despite a .246 batting average against. But he’s been nothing short of solid in his last few starts. He pitched to a 1.78 ERA in the month of June after an abysmal May where his ERA was nearly 6.00.

Jose Quintana, despite a down year for him, is still an upgrade on a poor Cubs rotation. If his recent form maintains, he’ll be the reliable guy the Cubs have lacked all year. Odds are he’ll return somewhere to the middle of the two forms he’s showed so far this year. It’s certainly an improvement on the rotation so far, but it won’t be enough to put the Cubs past the other powerhouses of the National League. Quintana has never pitched in a playoff race let alone the playoffs. That concern followed former teammate Chris Sale to Boston, but Chris Sale is a ridiculous talent who seemed unhappy in the other color of sock. Quintana, all due respect, is not Chris Sale. And a pitcher can only do so much. He pitches every fifth day and also needs help fro the offense to win games. The Cubs offense is certainly capable of catching fire and push them to the division crown, but their pitching as a whole remains suspect, especially when compared to the juggernauts that are the Nationals and the Dodgers.

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