Last October, much was made of Orioles manager Buck Showalter opting not to use closer Zach Britton in a tense situation late in a playoff game. Britton was Showalter’s best pitcher last year but he chose to go with Ubaldo Jimenez and it cost the Orioles their chance to move on in the postseason.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was guilty of a similar offense during Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday night, but he won’t get nearly as much blowback for it because of his reputation as a savvy, unorthodox skipper.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, lefty Brian Duensing returned to the mound for his second inning of work. One probably wants closer Wade Davis in that situation rather than Duensing, especially if you figure hierarchy into the equation. Duensing walked Yasiel Puig to start the inning. Then, one should be leaning even more in favor of bringing Davis. Duensing stayed in. Charlie Culberson moved Puig to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Duensing then struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer.
Maddon made the slow stroll to the mound. This must be the part were Davis comes in. Maddon instead brought in veteran starter John Lackey. Lackey is nearly 39 years old and did not have a great regular season, finishing with a 4.59 ERA over 170 2/3 innings. During the regular season, Davis struck out hitters 12.2 percent more often than Lackey while having an equivalent strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Lackey and catcher Willson Contreras couldn’t get on the same page as Lackey repeatedly asked for Contreras to go through the signs again. He fell behind Chris Taylor 3-1 before eventually walking him, bringing Turner to the plate. Turner is a great hitter and that may even be an understatement. He hardly struck out — his 10.3 K-rate was second-lowest among qualified hitters in baseball this season behind only Joe Panik. Facing Davis, though, increases the odds he does swing and miss. Turner took a first-pitch cutter in the dirt from Lackey for ball one, then drilled a 92 MPH fastball to left-center field for a walk-off three-run home run, winning Game 2 of the NLCS for the Dodgers by a 4-1 margin.
If, before Turner’s at-bat against Lackey, one were to rank the possible outcomes from likely to least likely, a home run is not that far from the top of the list. Lackey is just not that good anymore and he’s never been a bat-missing maven.
After the game, Maddon said, “We needed [Davis] for the save,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Maddon wanted to hold Davis for a situation his team was never guaranteed to reach, rather than utilizing him to bridge the gap to gaining a potential lead.
Managers are put under a microscope in the postseason. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes we are guilty of nitpicking, but this isn’t such a case. Maddon improperly utilized his personnel and his team is now behind two games to none in a best-of-seven series as a result.