MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Maddon needs no excuse for Chapman moves

Cubs skipper shouldn't have to keep explaining excessive use of All-Star closer

Maddon needs no excuse for Chapman moves

CHICAGO -- Joe Maddon is returning to manage the Cubs next season, and then probably the one after that, and two or three after that. Maybe even 10 more. Who knows?

Winning never gets old, at least not to the people actually doing it.

Try as they might, second-guessers in the media and among the Cubs' post-drought fan base aren't going to be able to run off Maddon. He would love some more World Series rings to go with the one he won in 2016, even if the criticism he's receiving for his handling of Aroldis Chapman is putting a cloud over his celebration.

"My intent was to win, and we could not have won without him," Maddon said on Friday at an event in his home town of Hazleton, Pa.

Maddon was responding to Chapman saying he was overused in the postseason, which has been a common theme since Maddon pulled Mike Montgomery to bring the closer in during the seventh inning of Game 6 against the Indians.

Cry me a river.

This was the World Series, and the Cubs forfeited their chance for delicate handling of pitchers by putting themselves in a three-games-to-one hole when they couldn't hit Cleveland pitching. If ever there was an all-hands-on-deck situation, this was it.

And not only did Chicago manage to come back in dramatic fashion, with Chapman playing the role of Goose Gossage or another old-time closer, but the lefty has since signed a five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees.

Maddon responds to Chapman

Where's the angst in all this?

The Cubs ended their 108-year drought and Chapman became the most highly paid relief pitcher ever, shattering the pre-2016 mark set by Jonathan Papelbon by $36 million. Yet Maddon's handling of Chapman remains a hot-button issue among fans.

Chapman had thrown 2 2/3 innings to get a save in the Cubs' 3-2 win in Game 5, then would throw 1 1/3 innings in both Games 6 and 7, piling up 97 pitches in four days. The takeaway moment for critics came when Rajai Davis delivered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 7. It came on a 97-mph fastball, matching the slowest of the season from Chapman, who wound up throwing 15 2/3 frames in the postseason.

"Personally, the way he used me during the playoffs, I believe there were a couple of times where maybe I shouldn't be put in the game and he put me in," Chapman said through an interpreter. "So I think, personally, I don't agree with the way he used me."

Chapman pointed to Maddon bringing him into Game 6 with a 7-2 lead in the seventh inning, even though he only allowed him to throw 20 pitches. It was surprising and deserved scrutiny, like bringing him in with the bases loaded and nobody out in Game 4 against the Giants in the National League Division Series.

There's no question that Maddon put Chapman into tough spots through the postseason. Many of those were the result of other pitchers not getting the outs that would have let the skipper take it easier on Chapman.

If Montgomery doesn't give up a two-out single to the Indians' Jason Kipnis in the seventh inning of Game 6 after he'd already walked Roberto Perez, Chapman wouldn't have been used before the eighth (although he probably would have been used, even with the 7-2 lead). If Jose Ramirez doesn't get an infield single off Jon Lester with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 7, Chapman would have started fresh in the ninth.

But Maddon needed to push Chapman, and he pushed him more than the closer had ever been pushed before. What did anyone expect?

MLB Tonight: Chapman overused?

The Cubs acquired Chapman to slam the door. The need for him to work multiple innings increased greatly when Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop became less reliable, in part due to health concerns. So Maddon leaned on Chapman heavily.

And now there's a lot of championship gear and other merchandise under Christmas trees in Chicago, and wherever Cubs fans reside.

Chapman tells us more about himself and maybe the cushy role of the modern closer than anything else by complaining about the responsibility he was given.

As much as you might want a manager to be creative and use his best reliever in the toughest spots, most closers want to work the ninth inning and not much else. That's why Andrew Miller is such a special cat, and why every contender (including the Cubs) had him atop their wish list at the Trade Deadline.

Maddon has got to be sick of hearing about his handling of the bullpen. He's talked before about how second-guessing is fueled by "an outcome bias." A managerial move is good if it works and stupid if it doesn't, no matter the other variables, including luck.

Chapman blew the Game 7 save, so that's on Maddon, right? But somehow this second-guessing feels harsher than usual. Maddon has somehow become a dunce in many fans' eyes, even though his team delivered a happy ending.

Not to mention, of course, that he's the same "dunce" who has overseen teams that have gone 82-35 in August and September the past two seasons. What would Cubs fans have given if Leo Durocher's club played so well late in 1969?

Second-guessing Maddon for overusing Chapman is the lesser second-guess. You realize that, right?

Imagine if Maddon had handed more big situations to Rondon, Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and others and Chicago had lost Game 5, 6 or 7. Take your choice.

There's your far more familiar Cubbie occurrence.

Props to Maddon for explaining his reasoning over and over again in the past month. Now can we just move on and appreciate the World Series for giving us everything we love about baseball?

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