Despite leading the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908, Joe Maddon has received considerable criticism for his managerial decisions late in the series. From bringing in Aroldis Chapman with a five-run lead in Game 6 to removing Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester too early in Game 7, Maddon is taking his lumps from various local and national pundits.
“The biggest problem I had with Maddon last night was the two-strike bunt (with Javier Baez),” MLB analyst Rob Neyer said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “That’s almost always indefensible regardless of the situation because your chance of failure is so high, giving away an out basically. I wish I could be with you on the Chapman stuff, but I wasn’t with you. I did think it was preposterous for him to be pitching in Game 6 with a five-run lead, but Maddon pulled him after throwing just 20 pitches. Closers throw 20 pitches all the time. I think the X-factor is how many warm-up pitches did Chapman throw in Game 6? Someone told me he got up to warm up three times in Game 6 and you have to quantify those things – and teams do. Teams keep track of warm-up pitches. It was clear he didn’t have his best stuff in Game 7, no question.”
While many baseball fans were rooting for the Cubs to end their dreaded “curse,” Neyer found himself rooting for Cleveland in Game 7.
“I think it means more to the Indians as a franchise and Cleveland as a city than it would mean to the Cubs,” he said. “It would have been an amazing story. I think a lot of casual fans were pulling for the Cubs because it’s been so long since they’re won, but just as a baseball story, the Indians were a much better story this season because (of their players stepping up and all the injuries they had).”
The Indians, who were seeking their first World Series title since 1948, scored four runs (three earned) off of Lester and Chapman. Neyer, however, felt Cleveland didn’t take advantage of Lester’s throwing limitations enough.
“I continue to wonder why teams don’t bunt on Lester all the time,” he said. “Every third batter, why wouldn’t you do that? I just don’t understand. I can’t help thinking there’s some sort of gentleman’s agreement that you just don’t take advantage of these things because it seems to me your on-base percentage bunting against Lester has to be higher than anything else you could do.”
In any event, the Cubs and Indians gave fans one of the greatest seven-game series in sports history. While ratings were off the charts, however, don’t expect the sport to suddenly eclipse football or basketball in popularity nationwide.
“I think baseball is inherently going to remain a local sport the way it’s been for decades now,” Neyer said. “That doesn’t mean to suggest that the Cubs and Indians drawing these great ratings isn’t good on some level for the game or the game’s general health. I think it is, but I think the impact is still relatively small.”