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.