This piece, written by Baseball Prospectus’s Matthew Trueblood, forms part of the main site’s comprehensive coverage of the postseason, “Playoff Prospectus”.
There’s a temptation, whenever a team is facing the prospect of its season ending in bitter playoff defeat, to expect decisive action and bold strokes. Some glass must be broken; this is an emergency.
For baseball men of a certain age, though, there is often a pull toward conservatism every bit as strong as the push of urgency. For most of Game 5, that gravity held Joe Maddon relatively still, from a tactical standpoint. He filled out more or less the lineup that brung ‘im, including Jason Heyward in right field and Javier Baez at second base, even after four games of largely floundering offense left the team on the brink of elimination.
He stuck with Jon Lester (and David Ross) much deeper into the game than one might have expected, under the circumstances. And he never found a moment at which to use Kyle Schwarber. Yet, ultimately, he made his most desperate managerial move since joining the Cubs, and it paid off, helping the club change the venue of the World Series one more time.
Firstly, let’s consider Maddon’s lineup, and Terry Francona’s, for that matter. Maddon kept his typical top four in the batting order, but with Ross set to catch Lester and a right-handed opposing starter with whom to deal, the manager elected to slide Addison Russell back up to the fifth spot, followed by Heyward and Baez. That was the defense-first lineup option, without question, and it would pay off throughout the game.
Francona, meanwhile, chose to start Carlos Santana in left field for the second time in the three games played under NL rules in Chicago. With Rajai Davis and Brandon Guyer rounding out his outfield, Francona had the offensive matchups he wanted against a left-handed starter and, presumably, he planned to do just what he’d done behind Josh Tomlin in Game 3–make it as far as the middle innings, hold a lead or a tie, and get Santana off the field to shore up the defense.
And he almost made it that far. Cleveland did score first, on a Jose Ramirez home run in the second inning, and held that edge until Kris Bryant hit an answering shot to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Anthony Rizzo followed that blast with a double hit nearly as hard, high off the wall in straightaway right field. The rest of that inning was an interesting exchange of missed opportunities to act proactively, by both skippers.
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Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports.