For a long time, manager Dusty Baker was known for leaving his starters in games too long. Many blamed him for the downfalls of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior back when he managed the Cubs. On Monday, he will be criticized for not leaving his starter in long enough.
Max Scherzer started Game 3 of the NLDS for the Nationals against the Cubs on Monday. He suffered a minor hamstring injury in his last start of the regular season, which delayed his first appearance in the postseason by a few days. As a result, the Nationals are unlikely — I would argue unable — to start him twice in NLDS.
Scherzer, though, had his stuff working. He no-hit the Cubs through the first six innings, issuing three walks while striking out six batters on 98 pitches. In the seventh, however, Scherzer’s no-hit bid went up in smoke as Ben Zobrist laced a one-out double to left-center field.
Baker came out to the mound. As has been done many times before, Scherzer pleaded his case to stay in the game, despite being at 98 pitches, close to his previously-stated goal. Sammy Solis, a reliever who finds success in particular when he faces left-handed hitters, was warming up in the bullpen. The left-handed-hitting Kyle Schwarber, who struggles against lefties and was eager to make up for an earlier defensive miscue, was coming up to the plate. Baker opted to take out Scherzer in favor of Solis.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in to pinch-hit for Schwarber. Almora had an .898 OPS against lefties during the regular season. Almora sent a 3-2, 84 MPH change-up from Solis into left-field to bring home Zobrist, tying the game up at one apiece. The Cubs would go on to score again in the eighth to take a 2-1 lead and Wade Davis closed out the game, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the NLDS.
Baker made the right call, even though the results didn’t bear that out. Scherzer was coming off an injury and was at 98 pitches. Furthermore, he was going through the Cubs’ lineup a third time, handled lefties worse than Solis (the left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward was also due up after Schwarber/Almora), and his departure forced the Cubs to sub out Schwarber. All good things. Baker, unfortunately, was punished and he’ll find out — as if he didn’t already know — that managers will be second-guessed no matter what they do.