With a 9-2 lead in the 9th inning, did Aroldis Chapman really need to be pitching for the Cubs?
(Photo courtesy of Arturo Pardavila)
Joe Maddon is certainly one of the best managers in baseball, as his track record with both Tampa Bay and Chicago speak for themselves. But yesterday in Game 6 of the World Series, with the Cubs down 3 games to 2, he left many people scratching their heads with the way he went about using his near indomitable closer, Aroldis Chapman.
With the Cubs leading 7-2 in the bottom of the 7th inning, and with 2 outs, Maddon called upon Chapman to face Francisco Lindor to squash any thoughts Cleveland had of mounting a comeback. Luckily, Chapman was able to get Lindor out on the closest of plays at 1st base where the Cubs reliever had to cover the bag as 1st basemen Anthony Rizzo tossed him the ball. As crucial an out as it was, Chapman was limping considerably after the play. Apparently Chapman’s injury wasn’t bad enough to keep him from coming back out for the 8th inning, where he made quick work of the Indians with a 1-2-3 inning. Chicago would go on to add another two runs in the top of the 9th, increasing their lead to 9-2, a seemingly insurmountable lead for any reliever to give up, let alone one of the most dominant relievers in the game, but yet again, Chapman came back out for the bottom of the 9th.
With just a 7-2 lead in the 7th and 8th innings, I can understand Maddon’s reasoning to use Chapman as there was still plenty of time for Cleveland to claw their way back into the game. When you consider the many factors that Maddon had to weigh when deciding whether or not to go with Chapman in the 9th…i.e. being up 7-runs, Chapman was nursing an injury, he’d already pitched 1 1/3 innings, and the fact that Game 7 was pretty much guaranteed…the decision to send him back out for the 9th was a bonehead move with considerable repercussions heading into Game 7.
With such a decent lead in Game 6, it wasn’t like Game 5 where the Cubs had just the 1-run lead and were forced to use Chapman to get the final eight outs of the game. Granted Game 6 was still a do-or-die game for Chicago, but staked to such a large lead, and Game 7 seemingly imminent, Maddon needs to at least think a little bit about saving certain players (e.g. his top reliever!!) for a possible Game 7. Maddon will probably argue that the one thing he had on his mind in Game 6 was to simply win, extend the series to a seventh and final game, and then pick-up the pieces afterwards. With just one game remaining after Game 6, Maddon probably figured that all hands would be on deck, and if need be, even starters like Jon Lester or John Lackey would be available in a relief role. Perhaps that’s why he pushed Chapman as hard as he did in Game 6, but you have to think that Maddon has a bit more common sense not to burn out his best reliever in a game that the Cubs pretty much already had in the bag.
I like Joe Maddon, and other than Terry Francona there’s probably no better manager in the game. There’s one thing he does however that can sometimes get him into trouble. He’s has this creative side which often goes against the norm, and although this approach can make for some fascinating baseball, at the same time it’s also quite risky and has a tendency to back-fire. Maddon is making this World Series too much a battle of Chapman vs Miller, and his decision to go with Chapman when he easily could have gotten away with another reliever(s) hurts the Cubs chances heading into Game 7. As equally matched as these two clubs are, the situation for Chicago going into Game 7 is that their top reliever is now tired and possibly injured…whereas Cleveland not only has their ace, Corey Kluber starting, they also have the benefit of their three best relievers (Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen) being well rested.