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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.

Braves clinch postseason spot with 10-1 win over Nationals

Dansby Swanson
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The Braves clinched a postseason berth with Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Nationals. Now, the only question is whether they’ll get there with an NL East division title or via one of two wild card spots currently up for grabs.

Granted, things are looking pretty good on the division title front. After losing their second straight game to the Braves, the Nationals sit 10.5 games back of first place in the NL East, and every other division rival is at least 15 games out. The Braves, meanwhile, carry a magic number of four; should they clinch, it’ll be their 19th franchise title and 14th since they migrated to the East division in 1994.

They certainly looked like postseason contenders on Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz led the charge with six innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball, limiting the Nationals to four hits while rookie right-hander Austin Voth kept the Braves scoreless through 5 2/3 frames. Things started to tip in Atlanta’s favor in the sixth inning: Nick Markakis put the team on the board with an RBI single, and a four-run breakout in the seventh helped cement a sizable lead. Over the last three innings, the Braves found opportunity after opportunity against the Nationals’ bullpen, capitalizing on walks, throwing errors, and productive outs as they climbed toward a double-digit finish.

The win didn’t come without some sacrifice, however. The Braves lost Charlie Culberson to a facial injury after he was struck by a Fernando Rodney fastball in the seventh inning, and they’ll likely be without him for the remainder of the regular season — pending a formal diagnosis, of course. Culberson’s loss isn’t the only one the club is feeling right now, either, as Johan Camargo ended his season with a hairline fracture in his right shin and Freddie Freeman is playing through a minor bout of elbow soreness after making an early exit from Friday’s 5-0 shutout.