Game 7 not one for the managers’ Hall of Fame


Now that the Cubs have won the World Series after 108 years, is it too soon to ask when they’re going to win it again?

Because at this pace, they’re due to do so again in 2,124. Mark your calendar.

The next — and there’s a pretty good chance the Cubs aren’t one and done in 2016 — won’t take as long, but it also won’t be as dramatic.

The first six games of the 2016 World Series, with the exceptions of Games 3 and 5, were stale, considering the team’s storylines. Games 1, 2, 4 and 6 were decided by a combined 21 runs and viewers probably changed TV stations more often than the teams exchanged the lead. In the first six games, there were just two lead changes, once after the Cubs scored a run in the first in Game 4 and lost 7-2, and again in Game 5 after the Indians scored a run in the second and lost 3-2.

Game 7 more than made up for that, the play and decisions often flawed but the drama building inning by inning as the Cubs’ drought had been accumulated year after year after year.

You almost knew it wouldn’t be as easy as the 5-1 lead the Cubs built, and Rajai Davis’ game-tying homer made it seem as if nothing in 108 years had changed. That would have been a very small show of hands for the Cubs’ chances after Coco Crisp followed with a single.

Even with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th it seemed inevitable the winning run would come to the plate. It did, but in the person of Michael Martinez, which isn’t always the same thing.

(Martinez had a .581 OPS this year, and that’s in a good year. In his career he’s .470 vs. lefties, so it would have taken an act of the supernatural for the Cubs to lose. Martinez’s presence in the game, let alone on the Indians’ World Series roster, was one of many curious decisions by two of the game’s best managers.)

Finally, Game 7 was saved, as the Cubs always expected, by a left-hander acquired in a midseason trade. Only it wasn’t Aroldis Chapman, who allowed five of the 12 runners he inherited this postseason to score, including an important one on Wednesday, but Mike Montgomery, who threw two pitches, both curveballs, to the overmatched Martinez.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stuffed the last-out ball in his back pocket as he flung his glove aside, a far better move than most of those by the two managers.

There’s pressure on everyone in Game 7s, and it showed on the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and the Indians’ Terry Francona, who gave fans a full offseason worth of second-guesses. Both reacted more to the imminence of the moment, which you can understand, but the absence of foresight was costly. Patience may not be a virtue in Game 7s but sometimes the denouement isn’t where it seems or where a manager fears. (All that being said, it’s also acknowledged that the review is much easier than the preview.)

Maddon seemed to handle his pitching staff with the mindset of a restaurant patron who knows what he’s going to order before even looking at the menu. Maddon’s plan for Game 7 was damn the specials: Kyle Hendricks for as long as it felt safe, then Jon Lester for as long as he could and finally Chapman, with a lead, for dessert, no matter what happens.

Ned Yost might have stayed too long with Jeremy Guthrie in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, but Maddon wasn’t going to let anyone say the day after he should have been more proactive.

Except Maddon removed Kyle Hendricks with a four-run lead while Yost stayed with Guthrie in a tie game, though the former had a 2016 ERA (2.13) two full runs less than latter. Hendricks had retired five straight batters before walking Carlos Santana, which would have been six had home-plate ump Sam Holbrook not fanned on an obvious strike three. Out came Hendricks.

Jason Kipnis was the batter Maddon most feared in the Series, and Maddon opted for the lefty Lester to keep a 5-1 lead from becoming 5-3 (much as he went to Chapman in Game 6 in the seventh to keep Francisco Lindor from turning a 7-2 deficit to 7-4 with a two-run double). It became 5-3 anyway when Lester wild-pitched two runs in.

The Cubs led 6-3 in the eighth when Lester allowed a two-out single, and Maddon brought in Chapman, oblivious to the Indians’ lineup, which veered hard right at Brandon Guyer and Davis. Both are right-handed hitting outfielders better vs. lefties, which Chapman is, but Maddon plodded on, putting a hand out to a snarling watchdog.

It made no sense, but Maddon apparently lost confidence in rookie righty Carl Edwards when he lost Game 3 and gave up a leadoff hit in the seventh inning of Game 5, and Pedro Strop when he couldn’t finish Game 6 with a seven-run lead.

Guyer has two specific skills: he can get hit by pitches and he can hit left-handed pitchers, like Chapman. Guyer’s OPS this year vs. lefties was nearly 400 points better (1.021 vs. .628) and 227 points for his career (.861 vs. 644). Davis’ splits aren’t as dramatic, but his career OPS vs. lefties is 120 points better (.780 vs. .660).

Indians manager Terry Francona had no recourse — he was so confident of Maddon’s pitching plans he wasted potential lefty pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin as a pinch-runner  — but he didn’t need one. Guyer doubled, Davis homered and the game was tied (Edwards faced both in the 10th and retired neither, but walked one and gave up a single to the other).

In the ninth Javier Baez tried to squeeze home Jason Heyward with two strikes, which seemed odd when Baez bunted foul. Given that Baez fanned 12 of his other 29 Series at-bats, give Maddon a pass. Baez might have struck out anyway.

The Cubs won the game with two runs in the 10th off Bryan Shaw, who is inexplicably higher on Francona’s pecking order than Dan Otero, who was statistically a better pitcher in 2016. Otero’s .526 OPS against this season was 160 points better than Shaw’s .686, and his 2.70 postseason ERA was better than Shaw’s 4.84. Among pitchers who threw at least 60 innings this season, Otero’s OPS was the eighth-best in MLB; Shaw’s was 89th.

Shaw pitched in 10.1 innings in 11 of the Indians’ 18 postseason games; Otero just 6.2 in six. What Francona was saving Otero for, or why he preferred Shaw, weren’t explained (and it’s certainly possible the Cubs would have scored against Otero, too; he’s the kind of 90-mph sinkerballer managers are often suspect of).

The media narrative, helped by Rizzo, credited the brief rain delay before the 10th inning for the Cubs’ rally, which, of course, neatly jibed with the facts. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t. But it probably helped the Cubs more that they had Kyle Schwarber-Kris Bryant-Rizzo-Ben Zobrist due up against the second-best offering of a beleaguered bullpen.

The Cubs scored twice (when Shaw came out, Game 5 starter Trevor Bauer came in; Otero is probably still warming up), the Indians scored once and up came Martinez, who, fittingly, was only in the game because of one final failed move for temporary gratification.

Martinez entered defensively in the ninth when Heyward reached third with one out, because he has a better outfield arm than Coco Crisp. That substitution was made moot by Baez’s failed squeeze.

Crisp isn’t Mike Trout and he’s about the 2016 equal of Davis. But he was 4-for-12 in the series, has a .265 average over 15 seasons and he’s not Michael Martinez, who has a .197 career average and has spent much of the last four years in the minors.

Maybe it’s good for Francona that Martinez made an out on two pitches, because there’s only so many times you can ask yourself why you did something and not have an answer.

 

 

 

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