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Joe Maddon’s use of Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 was… questionable

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When Cubs shortstop Addison Russell hit a grand slam in the top of the third inning to give his team a 7-0 lead, the Cubs’ odds of winning the game went from 86 percent to just under 97 percent. From that point on, the Cubs’ odds of winning never slipped below 93.5 percent, according to FanGraphs.

Manager Joe Maddon, seeing his team in an elimination game, understandably was a little tense and decided to use closer Aroldis Chapman to get the final out of the bottom of the seventh inning after lefty Mike Montgomery put runners on first and second with two outs. The Cubs’ odds of winning then were 97 percent, but still, it’s an elimination game and the Indians were threatening. Chapman got Francisco Lindor to end the inning on a bang-bang play at the first base bag. Chapman, covering first, seemed to suffer a leg injury on the play as he came away hobbling.

The questionable part came when Chapman took the mound to start the eighth inning. The Cubs had all the time in the world to get someone else warming up, but they didn’t. The Cubs’ odds of winning, at the start of the frame? 99 percent. They would have had to give up at least five runs over the next two innings, or a 22.50 ERA. While Pedro Strop (2.85 regular season ERA), Hector Rondon (3.53), and the rest of their bullpen mates are not Chapman, they are not 22.50 ERA pitchers, either.

Chapman worked a quick eighth inning, working around a one-out walk of Jose Ramirez by getting Yan Gomes to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. He had thrown 25 pitches to this point. Maddon gambled using Chapman in a low-leverage situation and he appeared to injure himself, then Maddon continued to rely on Chapman, but they seemed to walk away unscathed. You gambled and won, walk away from the table.

Chapman again took the mound to start the ninth inning. Chapman issued a five-pitch walk to Brandon Guyer to lead off the inning before departing. After the game, Maddon told FOX broadcaster Tom Verducci he had Chapman start the inning because he needed time for Strop to warm up. Which, well, why wasn’t he warming up earlier anyway?

Strop came in and, as if to punish those of us advocating his use earlier in the game, uncorked a wild pitch to move Guyer to second, then allowed Guyer to score on a line drive single to right field to Roberto Perez. Luckily for Strop, Perez was thrown out trying to advance to second base on a Jason Heyward missile. Strop then walked Carlos Santana, causing Maddon to come out and replace him with lefty Travis Wood, who got Jason Kipnis to foul out to end the game.

Maddon’s team won comfortably, by six runs, but he took some unnecessary risks in doing so. The Cubs were never really in danger of losing this game and it would have taken a meltdown of epic proportions for the non-Chapman relievers to blow a five-run lead. The risks taken in using Chapman unnecessarily included him suffering a freak injury (which appeared to happen), exacerbating the injury by continuing to use him, and reducing the likelihood that Chapman has the stamina and effectiveness to go more than one inning in Game 7. True, the Cubs will have all hands on deck tomorrow — including Jon Lester and John Lackey — but I think even Maddon would admit he’d prefer to hand the ball to Chapman in the seventh and eighth innings over those two in Game 7.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”