You can’t say we didn’t see this coming. During Game 6 — and in my article posted shortly after its completion — I questioned Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s unnecessary use of closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Cubs had a five-run lead facing two Indians runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Maddon chose to bring in Chapman despite it still being a demonstrably low-leverage situation. Chapman got Francisco Lindor to ground out to end the inning. That’s fine if that’s the extent of Chapman’s workload for the night.
But it wasn’t. Chapman pitched the eighth inning, striking out Mike Napoli and getting Yan Gomes to hit into an inning-ending double-play. 15 pitches doesn’t seem like a lot, but Chapman also pitched 2 2/3 innings in Game 5. Entering Wednesday’s seventh and final game, only Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta — starting pitchers — had logged more inning in the World Series than Chapman’s 6 1/3. The reliever with the most innings after Chapman? Mike Montgomery at 4 1/3. To say the Cubs have leaned on Chapman is to understate how much of a security blanket he’s been for Joe Maddon.
It showed in Game 7 when Maddon brought in Chapman to relieve Jon Lester (who, by the way, did not start) with a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. Chapman threw seven pitches to his first batter, Brandon Guyer. His fastball sat mostly in the high 90’s, which is pedestrian by Chapman’s standards. The lefty has thrown more 100+ MPH pitches than entire teams this season. Guyer hit a double to right-center field to bring in a run and cut the Indians’ deficit to 6-4. Chapman continued to pump high-90’s fastballs to Davis and Davis eventually connected for a game-tying, two-run home run down the left field line.
To make matters worse, Maddon sent Chapman back out to the mound for the ninth inning. Maddon gambled with Chapman on Tuesday and it didn’t cost him even when Chapman appeared to roll his ankle covering first base. It cost him in the eighth inning, but he didn’t lose all his chips, so Maddon shoved his remaining stack in the middle. Luckily for him, Chapman was able to navigate through the bottom of the ninth with no damage. Maddon, though, had Cubs fans sweating the entire time he was pumping 97 MPH fastballs in the strike zone.
Ultimately, the Cubs were able to sneak out with an 8-7 victory in 10 innings to win the World Series. It didn’t have to be this difficult.