While the Cubs celebrate their 2016 World Series this weekend, they hope to put one little issue from Game 7 to bed for good.
That would be manager Joe Maddon's use of his pitchers in the final game at Cleveland. Maddon pulled starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks after 4⅔ innings, turning to staff ace Jon Lester in relief. Lester worked 3 innings before Maddon summoned workhorse closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Cubs ran out to a 5-1 lead in the game, but the Indians tied it at 6-6 on a 2-run homer by Rajai Davis against Chapman in the eighth. Things turned out well for the Cubs in the end with a 8-7 victory in 10 innings.
Even so, Maddon has been questioned about the moves relentlessly in the off-season, and it came up again Saturday at the Cubs convention.
The Hendricks-Lester-Chapman plan was in Maddon's mind even before the game began. The manager on Saturday gave one simple reason for that.
"There's no Game 8," he said. "You can't play it like you play it in June or July. You have to be a little bit more proactive. On top of that, it's not every day you have Jon Lester warming up in the bullpen. That's the unique component to the whole thing. If Jon Lester is not available, you can't plan it out that way, obviously. When it gets to a point where Jason Kipnis is hitting (the first batter Lester faced), you see how well he (hit) against (Jake) Arrieta. Remember that?
"I promise you, you could wake up Jason Kipnis at 2 o'clock in the morning on a Wednesday and ask who he would prefer to face, any right-hander or Jon Lester. He would give you that answer immediately. We had already started Jonny warming up. Coming out of the bullpen, you have to be careful. He had so many throws in his arm; that's all he had that particular night. It was time to move it along, and he actually did really well. I don't know if you saw the whole game, but he did really well."
As far as Chapman, Maddon chose to give Davis credit rather than blame Chapman for the home run. For the umpteenth time, Maddon also added that he loves second-guessing.
"That's a big part of why our game is so popular," he said. "It's that you can have conversations like this."
The Game 7 strategy also came up with team president Theo Epstein during an earlier session at the convention.
"You know what?" Epstein said. "We do kind of manage along with Joe, too, in the stands. I'll be the first to say that I don't always agree with everything, but he's always got a reason for everything. Before the game, he had a really strong feeling. The way he saw it going was Hendricks for 5, Lester for a couple and then Chapman, which is different, because Joe usually really makes sure he watches the game.
"He doesn't like to set things up. He likes to anticipate all different scenarios before the game, but he's really big on watching the game and seeing how the game is going and managing the game he sees, not the game he thought he anticipated. But in this game, he sees things from the dugout. He had Lester up early. We forget that Kyle had some hard-hit balls in the second and third innings, and he had to get Lester up early. A big part of that decision, and I'll let Joe speak for himself, is that once he got Lester up, he couldn't wait too long to get him in the game."
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