Joe Maddon’s use of Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 almost came back to haunt him

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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.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”