MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Cubs' big-lead use of Chapman costly?

Maddon waves off second-guessers after using closer in Game 6 rout

Cubs' big-lead use of Chapman costly?

CLEVELAND -- Smoke 'em if you've got 'em.

That has become Joe Maddon's approach with Aroldis Chapman, and here the Cubs are, delivering the day that their fans have waited for all their lives -- the day that one win ends the longest drought in professional sports. Should be fun, right?

The angst level of Cubs fans over Chapman's heavy workload figures to be off the chart.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 25 CLE 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 26 CHC 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 28 CLE 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 29 CLE 7, CHC 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 30 CHC 3, CLE 2 video
Gm 6 Nov. 1 CHC 9, CLE 3 video
Gm 7 Nov. 2 CHC 8 CLE, 7 (10) video

To get to the seventh game of the World Series, Maddon extended Chapman for an eight-out save in Game 5 on Sunday and then summoned him into Game 6 with a five-run lead in the seventh inning Tuesday. Chicago's skipper lifted him four outs later, after walking Brandon Guyer to open the ninth, with the lead extended to seven runs in what ended as a 9-3 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.

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Chapman wound up throwing 20 pitches on top of the 42 he threw Sunday. Did he really need to be in the game when the Cubs were cruising?

That point will be second-guessed forever if Chapman fades in Game 7, but Maddon doesn't worry about second-guessers. He does worry about losing big leads against dangerous teams, in an elimination game especially, and he considers the Indians in that category despite their having averaged only 3.4 runs per game this postseason.

"I think five runs -- listen, I've been at this ballpark when we were up by seven or nine and they came back in the last [inning],'' Maddon said. "Cleveland has this tendency and this tradition, so I don't want that to happen.''

Maddon has other relievers, but apparently not another he feels can handle the heart of the Indians' order under duress. He had brought in Mike Montgomery for Jake Arrieta with two outs in the sixth, but he went to Chapman after a one-out walk of Roberto Perez and a two-out single by Jason Kipnis in the seventh.

The Indians had Francisco Lindor coming to the plate, with Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez lined up behind him.

Chapman's 1 1/3 relief innings

"[That's] the meaty part of their batting order," Maddon said. "If you don't get through that, there is no tomorrow."

Not to quibble, but Lindor and Napoli could have hit back-to-back homers and the Cubs would have still had the lead. But Maddon wasn't going to take chances with the inexperienced Carl Edwards Jr. or one of his two late-inning arms from the first half of the season, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop.

Maddon wanted Chapman to slam the door, and he did, in a sense. He did just enough of a good job covering first base on Lindor's grounder to Anthony Rizzo that replay could overturn umpire Sam Holbrook's safe call on a bang-bang play.

Statcast: Chapman covers first

Chapman walked gingerly immediately after the inning-ending play, but he was cleared to keep pitching in the eighth, and Maddon let him face four more hitters before turning the lead over to Strop in the ninth. Indians manager Terry Francona was definitely happy to see Maddon go to Chapman, thinking it might affect him if he's needed in a big spot in Game 7.

"You always want to win the game, but the next best thing, and we've talked about this before we even started, was try to make them use pitching even in a loss," Francona said. "So we hung around enough, at least Chapman had to pitch. You never know, maybe that helps us."

Chapman has never thrown more than 83 pitches in a four-day stretch since defecting from Cuba, and this season, he didn't throw more than 61 in any three-day span. He's at 62 over three days heading toward Game 7.

What will that mean if the Cubs have a one-run lead in the seventh or eighth, let alone the ninth?

Chapman helps Cubs force Game 7

The Cubs had better hope history doesn't repeat itself. In Chapman's three-game, 83-pitch stretch over four days in July 2015, he took a loss in his final appearance, walking two and allowing three hits in one inning to -- of all teams -- Maddon's Cubs. Maddon didn't seem overly concerned about this calculated risk in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night's victory. But Dusty Baker didn't see anything wrong with letting Mark Prior work eight innings in Game 2 of the 2003 National League Championship Series even though the Cubs had a 10-run lead after six.

With the Cubs breaking to an 8-0 lead in the third and leading the Marlins, 12-2, through six, Baker could have lightened the load on Prior. But he didn't trust a bullpen that had Kyle Farnsworth as the setup man for Joe Borowski, so he left Prior in. He threw 10 pitches in the seventh and 28 more in the eighth, ending the night at 116.

Would Prior have avoided the post-Bartman meltdown in Game 6, with the Cubs on the verge of advancing to the World Series, if he hadn't expended the energy it took to throw his last 38 pitches in Game 2? We'll never know.

Maddon's gamble on usage with a big lead, on the other hand, is set to play out in full few in the last innings of Game 7.

If Chapman does pitch, it will be the sixth time this season he's come back without rest after throwing 20-plus pitches in an outing. He was fine in four of those five outings (the first three of which were with the Yankees), but he blew a save at Colorado on Aug. 19 after picking up a save against the Brewers at Wrigley Field the day before.

Maddon on Game 6 win

Maddon summoned Chapman in the 11th inning, after the Cubs had taken a 6-5 lead. He wound up suffering one of the ugliest losses of the season, giving up a one-out single to Nick Hundley and then a double to Ryan Raburn, who circled the bases for a Little League homer after Javier Baez's throwing error.

Imagine something like that in Game 7 of the World Series, with Chapman seemingly compromised in the effort to protect a five-run lead the night before.

Maddon is not wired for that kind of thinking, of course. One of the biggest parts of his charm is that he's all about the upside, not the downside. Maddon will leave the worrying to other people, and there will be no shortage of those if Chapman is needed to end the 108-year drought.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.