Will Joe Maddon's Confusing Use of Aroldis Chapman Come Back to Bite Cubs?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 2, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs have clawed back from the brink of elimination and are now one win away from their first World Series title in 108 years.

So, of course they're the ones everyone is second-guessing at the moment.

After beating the Cleveland Indians in a 3-2 nail-biter at Wrigley Field in Game 5, the Cubs took control of Game 6 at Progressive Field with seven early runs en route to a 9-3 romp.

Like that, Cleveland's 3-1 series lead is gone. All the Cubs need to complete their comeback is a few runs and 27 outs in Game 7 on Wednesday.

That leads us to the big question: How many of those outs can Aroldis Chapman get?

The answer might have been "As many as Joe Maddon asks him to get, duh" if Chicago's manager had taken his club's big lead in Game 6 as an excuse to rest his fire-balling closer. After all, Chapman was only a day removed from throwing 42 pitches and getting eight outs in Game 5.

Instead, Maddon brought Chapman in after Mike Montgomery had allowed two runners to reach in the seventh inning. He kept him in until a leadoff walk in the ninth inning. He threw another 20 pitches.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs walks back to the dugout after forcing out Francisco Lindor #12 of the Cleveland Indians (not pictured) at first base to end the seventh inning in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at P
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Maddon was asked to explain himself afterward. Here's the key part of his answer (via MLB.com):

I mean, seventh inning there because they came up, the middle of the batting order was coming up, [Francisco] Lindor, [Mike] Napoli, [Jose] Ramirez possibly, all that stuff. So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly. Also there was a threat that we would score more runs, which we did, and just did not have enough time to get [Pedro Strop] warmed up after the two-run home run by [Anthony] Rizzo.

In short, Chapman came into the game to make sure the heart of Cleveland's lineup didn't make something of the rally that was brewing and stayed in the game because there hadn't been enough time to adjust to the team's recently increased lead.

The important context that's missing is the Cubs already had a 7-2 lead before Rizzo put the game on ice with his two-run blast in the ninth. Cleveland's rally was also with two outs, so the game was hardly hanging in the balance.

In fact, the win expectancy chart from FanGraphs shows the Cubs had about a 97 percent chance of winning even before Chapman entered the game:

On one hand, going to Chapman was Maddon's abiding by the notion that closers shouldn't be restricted to the last three outs. On the other hand, bringing in Chapman in that situation was like using a Howitzer to take out a bothersome house fly.

It was plausible at the time that Maddon only meant to use Chapman to get Lindor and would then turn the game over to Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon or whoever to get the last six outs. That seemed even more likely after Chapman came up favoring his right leg after beating—as instant replay would confirm—Lindor to the first-base bag on a grounder to Rizzo. The rally had been stifled, but Chapman's limp seemed like a warning to Maddon not to tempt fate.

But Maddon wasn't messing around. Chapman came back out for the eighth, and then there he was in the ninth.

Let's get to the silver lining of all this: Just because Chapman pitched in Game 6 doesn't mean he can't pitch in Game 7. He will be available.

And for what it's worth, that scare around the first-base bag might not be a clear and present danger. The man himself told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune he feels just fine:

So no, Game 7 is not over before it's even begun just because Chapman pitched in Game 6. You know, just in case any of you straw men out there were actually thinking that.

The real fear, though, is the Cubs' chances of winning Game 7 have been downgraded after Chapman's outing in Game 6.

Had Maddon not used Chapman at all or maybe just used him to shut down that seventh-inning rally, he would have gotten plenty of rest following his taxing outing in Game 5. That might have allowed him to come in and get as many as eight outs again in Game 7.

But now, you wonder.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted on Twitter that Chapman had only one bad outing in six tries this season the day after throwing 20-plus pitches in a game. However, one out of six is a lot less comforting in a World Series setting than in the regular season.

That 42-pitch effort in Game 5 also looms. That's one of only three times Chapman has crossed the 40-pitch threshold.

He got two days of rest after one of them in September 2015 when he was with the Cincinnati Reds. That may have been because manager Bryan Price remembered when he didn't let Chapman rest the day after a 40-pitch appearance in July and how three days later he allowed three hits and two walks in one inning.

This is imperfect precedent for the situation Chapman is in now. But it's enough to raise questions about how many pitches he would have in him for Game 7 even on two healthy legs. And despite Chapman's insistence on 100 percent health, any lingering soreness in his right leg Wednesday could be an issue.

Point being: Although Maddon will no doubt try to get two or three good innings out of Chapman anyway, he might not have two or three good innings to give.

Unlike in Game 6, the Cubs may not have the luxury of a big lead this time.

They'll be facing Cleveland ace/possible T-800 from the future Corey Kluber. All he's done in this series is allow one run in 12 innings, with 15 strikeouts and one walk. And while Maddon tasked Chapman with getting more than three outs for the second time in three days, Cleveland manager Terry Francona was resting his own relief aces: Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

This doesn't necessarily mean Cleveland has the edge. It depends on who you ask. The Indians are favored at FiveThirtyEight. The Cubs are favored at FanGraphs. It's almost as if Game 7 is a would-be classic with all sorts of ins, outs and what-have-yous.

But when Game 7 begins, there may as well be a clock counting down to Chapman Time. We're going to find out if all this hand-wringing is much ado about nothing or an excuse to say "I told you so."

       

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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