"He's been looking great lately," Zobrist said.
If Quintana was untested in high-leverage games when he arrived on the North Side of Chicago earlier this summer, he certainly isn't anymore. The left-hander delivered a critical shutout over the Brewers in September, helping the Cubs fend off Milwaukee's playoff push. He added a strong effort in National League Division Series Game 3, holding the Nationals to an unearned run in 5 2/3 innings. And he recorded two key outs in the Cubs' Game 5, NLDS-clinching win over the Nats on Thursday night.
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Now, as one of the better-rested members of Chicago's rotation, Quintana will take the ball for NLCS Game 1. The Cubs consider the 12 pitches Quintana threw in relief Thursday akin to a bullpen session, keeping him fresh enough to start Saturday.
Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were all unavailable due to their recent workloads, leaving Quintana and Lackey -- who did not pitch at all in the NLDS -- as the only realistic candidates for a Game 1 start. After arriving in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon, manager Joe Maddon and his coaching staff huddled with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at the Cubs' team hotel, ultimately settling on Quintana.
"We have to battle through these first two games, hopefully win one of them," Maddon said. "Getting two would be incredibly difficult, but possible, of course. Then you get to that day [off], and you regroup."
After coming to the Cubs from the White Sox in a mid-July trade, Quintana went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA, finishing 11-11 with a 4.15 ERA during the regular season. Although he hasn't allowed an earned run in two career starts against the Dodgers, the most recent of those occurred in 2014.
Throw those results out the window for Quintana, who has never faced Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager or several other cogs of the Dodgers' playoff roster. The Cubs didn't select Quintana to start Game 1 because of his history; had they cared about playoff pedigree, they'd have chosen Lackey, who trails only Lester in career postseason innings among active big leaguers. Nor did they select Quintana because he is left-handed; the Dodgers crushed lefty pitching to a .789 OPS during the regular season, second-best in the NL.