aroldis chapman

What is Aroldis Chapman Going to Have Left for Game 7?

Joe Maddon's curious use of Aroldis Chapman continued into Game 6. Now what for Game 7?

by Sean Newell
Nov 2 2016, 7:38pm

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Eddie Robinson's outerwear, the biggest story out of Game 6 in Cleveland was the way Joe Maddon used flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. In Game 5, the Cubs closer pitched the final eight outs on 42 pitches, both career highs. Monday was an off day for travel and Tuesday could have been the last game of the season, so Chapman was always going to be available for Game 6. But when the Cubs posted a 7-2 lead, you figured you wouldn't see Chapman until/unless things got hairy. Instead, he pitched 1 1/3 innings in the 9-3 Cubs win, and might have pitched the entire ninth inning had the Cubs not scored a couple of insurance runs in the ninth.

Maybe Maddon was a little salty that his counterpart in the Cleveland dugout was getting heaping spoonfuls of praise for the way he has bucked convention in his use of Andrew Miller, or maybe he didn't even want to imagine what a "hairy" situation might look like, or he simply does not trust anyone else in his bullpen outside of Mike Montgomery. In regards to Miller, Terry Francona has embraced what many people have been saying for years now about how managers should use their best relievers in the most high-leverage moments of each game, no matter what inning. Maddon hasn't quite done that with Chapman, outside of going to him uncharacteristically early and keeping him in there for the rest of the game. And Chapman hasn't been nearly as lights out as his former Yankees teammate Miller.

Nevertheless, it seemed like maybe that was the plan yesterday—use your best guy, at the most important moment—even though a 7-2 lead seems fairly comfortable. It was a curious move at the time, but Maddon saw this as the moment of the game, and went to his guy:

"I mean, seventh inning there because they came up, the middle of the batting order was coming up -- Lindor, Napoli, Ramirez possibly -- all that stuff," Maddon said. "So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly."

That's fine, but it almost immediately blew up in his face when Chapman rolled his ankle trying to cover first base. He stayed in the game obviously, but holy shit, can you imagine? Aroldis Chapman comes into a 7-2 game in the seventh inning and you lose him for the rest of the series to a busted ankle? He got through the eighth and had only thrown 16 pitches. You figured his night was done. Then Anthony Rizzo hit a two run homer and the decision was all but made for Maddon. And yet Chapman started the ninth inning. After the game, Maddon said it was as a result of Pedro Strop not being warmed up yet. The Cubs insurance runs and the final out of the top of the ninth came too close together for Strop to have enough time to warm up. But after Chapman walked the lead batter, Maddon summoned the now-ready Strop. But it appears likely Chapman would have pitched all of the ninth if the score had stayed 7-2 entering the bottom of the ninth.

Chapman has thrown over 60 pitches in his last two appearances, and is doing things he has never done before. If he pitched last night at 7-2, you figure the only way he's not pitching tonight is if the starter Kyle Hendricks pitches a complete game gem, or the Cubs have, what, a double-digit lead? Both Jon Lester and John Lackey will be available, but it's unlikely Maddon would want either of them closing the game. There is only one game left at this point, so it's not like you're saving Chapman for anything—and don't forget he's also a free agent after the season—so it's just a matter of what he has saved up in that arm.