Going with Lackey Wasn’t a Good Call, But Cubs Were Hosed Either Way

I dislike Joe Maddon’s decision to use John Lackey instead of Wade Davis in the 9th inning of a tie game, but I understand it.

First, Maddon went with Brian Duensing to start the 9th inning because of favorable bottom-of-the-order matchups for the lefty’s refreshing command. Maddon surely thought there was a good chance Duensing could get out of the 9th, after which the Cubs could hand the ball over to either Davis or Lackey for the 10th.

Second, Davis was on a strict one-and-done limit and coming into the 9th inning with two outs would’ve been it for him. Then Lackey would’ve been sent out to face the middle of the Dodgers’ order for the bottom of the 10th. Knowing he was stuck between his rock and a hard case, Maddon rolled the dice and figured that the CubsĀ best shot at winning the game included preserving Davis to get through the opposition’s best hitters for a full inning.

I comprehend the logic. Maddon used Duensing in an extremely favorable situation, but the lefty wasn’t completely up to the task. As a consequence of Duensing’s failure, Maddon would have been forced to burn Davis for one out and then go to Lackey in the following frame. There’s no way around the ugly truth that the starter-turned-reliever was going to face some iteration of Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and so on in that baseball game.

Maddon’s decision was blasted by almost all baseball outlets, not to mention pretty much every Cubs fan the world over. Though the two shouldn’t really be compared, the criticism of Maddon is akin to that leveled at Buck Showalter for his usage of his own dominant closer, Zach Britton, in last year’s AL Wild Card showdown. Showalter’s blunder, however, came during an elimination game with a whole different menu of contextual decisions, few of which were present in Game 2 of the NLCS.

One thing both managers did have in common was opening the final inning of their respective games with Duensing, who pitched for Baltimore last year.

As I was managing from my couch, I would’ve gone with Davis immediately after Duensing showed signs of decay. Burning my closer and taking my chances with Lackey facing the middle of the order in the 10th inning was a tough call, but I at least wanted a chance at taking another turn at bat. Either way, though, the Cubs were dealt a 16 with the dealer showing 7, to use blackjack parlance.

If you hit, you probably bust. If you stay, the dealer probably survives. You lose both ways. The odds of pushing the series to 1-1 were already extremely low the moment Duensing got smacked.

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