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How should a baseball fan react when desperation works?
Given that I am most desperate to not sound like Dusty Baker, I wish I could just take a deep breath and move on. But I can't.
Baker capped off his season at the helm of the Nationals earlier in the playoffs by insinuating that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was endangering the long-term health of pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen by pitching them so much in the National League Divisional Series.
He hadn't seen anything yet.
I would wager that going into Sunday night's 3-2 victory over the Indians that reduced Cleveland's World Series lead to 3-2, most sentient Cubs fans were still uncomfortable with the idea of Joe Maddon bringing in ninth inning specialist Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. So what did the Cubs manager do? He brought him in in the seventh after a series of bizarre decisions.
Maddon was lucky Chapman's agent didn't race onto the field to try to protect the health of his meal ticket. The closer is a free agent at the end of this season and if there is any sort of problem with his arm in these last few days of this campaign, it will potentially cost him tens of millions of dollars.
The accepted wisdom in baseball for a long time has been that you don't spend the season and two playoff rounds having a guy pitch one inning at a time (and every once in a long while trying to have him get four or five outs) and then suddenly send him out for three innings of work. Especially a pitcher who works as hard to throw the ball as fast as Chapman does.
But that was what Maddon did.
He did so after deciding to pinch hit for weak-hitting catcher David Ross with weaker hitting catcher Miguel Montero with two outs in top of the frame, despite having far better other hitting options and the fact that he did not intend to bring Montero in to catch.
And of course, because Ross came out, that meant pitcher Jon Lester (he of the inability to throw to the bases even with security blanket Ross behind the plate - what the heck is he going to do next year?) had to come out as well. Lester had thrown 90 pitches at that point and should have been good for at least another inning, especially since he of course hadn't yet been pinch-hit for.
Sure enough, Montero struck out to end the inning. Far better pinch-hitting options Kyle Schwarber (a lefty hitter) and Albert Almora (righty) remained on the bench and never did get into the game.
Cubs fans would have understood completely if Maddon had pulled Lester after allowing a base-runner in the bottom of the seventh. Watching Lester pitch with a runner on base is torturous at this point. If Lester had been pitching, he would have first faced Mike Napoli, who he had handled earlier in the game, and then switch-hitter Carlos Santana. Santana is much better from the left side. Instead, Maddon brought in rookie righthander Carl Edwards, Jr. to throw to rookie backstop Willson Contreras, who came on for Ross/Montero. It took all of one at-bat to determine that Edwards was overmatched as he gave up a long single to Napoli.
Then Santana, who had blasted a critical home run from the left side just the game before, stepped in. Chapman had been warming up and seemed ready. If Maddon was going to have him go for an eight-out save, why not go for nine outs, especially since the lefty would then force Santana to hit from the right side?
Nope, Edwards stayed out there. And Maddon got as lucky as he ever has in his career as he watched the Indians slugger fly out to left before going to make the final ridiculous pitching change.
Analytics guys like Maddon and the rest of the Cubs brain trust know to avoid outcome bias. Just because something works out doesn't mean it was the smartest decision. There is no defending this usage of Chapman other than "Well, it worked out, didn't it?"
That is the weakest sauce.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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