During the ninth inning of a tied game between the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, Maddon opted to bring John Lackey, and not closer Wade Davis, into the game with the winning run on second base. After Chris Taylor walked to put runners on first and second, Justin Turner launched a three-run home run into the center field stands to give the Dodgers a 2-0 series lead.
When asked after the game why Davis wasn’t used and why Lackey, who has never pitched on consecutive days in his big league career, was, Maddon said that he was saving Davis for extra innings.
“We needed him for the save tonight,” he said. “He had limited pitches and was one inning only. If we had caught the lead, he would have pitched.”
The problem, of course, is that the Cubs didn’t get the lead, and they didn’t get their best reliever to the mound. While many were quick to point out the similarities to last year’s postseason, when Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter left closer Zach Britton as the team coughed up the 2016 AL Wild Card game against the Toronto Blue Jays, there is a Cubs comparison that is just as appropriate.
In 2007, Cubs manager Lou Piniella pulled starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano after just 85 pitches in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Although he never admitted it, Piniella very likely pulled Zambrano to “save” him for later in that series, but that date never came, as the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs.
Truth be told, this is a similar moment for Maddon, who got caught planning for a situation that never arose.
Often times, Maddon is accused of over-managing, but in this instance, he looks as though he simply made a massive mistake. There’s scarcely an argument to be made that Taylor was the most important out of the game, and instead of going to the man who just ground through a two-plus inning save a few days ago, Maddon went with a veteran pitcher who has never been put into a situation like this one.
Not only that, but every imaginable metric shows that Lackey is ill-suited for a situation like this. Lackey routinely gets pounded in the first inning of games, to the tune of a 5.70 ERA in the first inning of games this season. He also gave up a stunning 36 home runs during the regular season, meaning that he pitches to contact and gets punished for it often.
With those two factors in place, Maddon simply has to know better than to put his oldest pitcher into a no-win situation.
The Cubs’ offense hasn’t done the team any favors, as they’ve failed to register a single hit against the Dodgers’ bullpen, and the Cubs’ own pen has been atrocious in these playoffs, but when the pivotal moment came for Maddon to use his best pitcher in the highest-leverage situation imaginable, he made a blunder that leaves the Cubs in a 2-0 hole as they head back to Wrigley Field.
It has yet to be decided whether that mistake will lead to the Cubs’ ultimate demise in these playoffs, but it certainly didn’t help stem the momentum that these Dodgers are generating.