Cubs 2016 Playoff Retrospective – World Series Edition

Now that the 2017 Cubs Convention has concluded, the last remaining stepping stone towards the day when pitchers and catchers report has been reached, and countdowns to 2017 Spring Training will soon start appearing on your local nightly news stations.

But before we turn the page on the Cubs 2016 championship season (just kidding that page will stay bookmarked till the end of time), let’s take one final look back at the Cubs 2016 postseason run. This article serves as the World Series edition to a previous article that was posted here earlier this month which examined the NLDS and NLCS. We all know and remember the Miguel Montero grand slam, the Dexter Folwer leadoff home run, or Javy Baez putting the nail in the coffin in the Giants #evenyearmagic. What this piece (and the prior piece) strives to do is to alert or remind Cub fans about the less remembered postseason moments that were the combination of uncommon skill, opponent’s blunders, or good fortune; the types of moments that had largely evaded the Cubs franchise since 1908.

Brandon Crawford Gets the Yips – Game Four NLDS: Before we move onto the World Series retrospective, I wanted to include one final NLDS moment as an addendum to my previous article. While the Cubs 2016 defense was legendary, the Giants were also a very good defensive team, ranking eighth in PADE in the 2016 season. The Giants shortstop, Brandon Crawford, was a big reason for their defensive success during the 2016 regular season, and was even referred to as the “perfect defensive shortstop” earlier in the year. So it was shocking that Crawford committed not one, but two crucial errors that enabled the Cubs to mount their legendary comeback on that October night in San Francisco.

The first error came on a routine groundball hit to Crawford by Javy Baez in the top of the fifth that Crawford short armed to Brandon Belt, who failed to keep the ball in front of him as it caromed into the Cubs bullpen along the right field line. Crawford’s initial throwing error turned what should have been a two out, no one on base situation with the number eight hitter coming up to a one out runner on third situation. David Ross was able to drive in Baez on a sacrifice fly later in the inning, and in retrospect, this unearned run proved to be crucial as Baez was the last base runner Matt Moore allowed that night.

However, it was Crawford’s second throwing error that may have cost the Giants series. The Cubs had just tied the game on a Willson Contrereas single back up the middle, and Joe Maddon elected to have Jason Heyward attempt a sacrifice bunt to try and move Contreras into scoring position. However, like so many of Heyward’s 2016 plate appearances, the execution was sorely lacking. Heyward’s bunt was hit right back at Will Smith who tossed it to Crawford at second base in an attempt to start a double play. Heyward, to his credit, realized his mistake immediately and was busting it down the first base line, making a double play seem unlikely. Crawford tried to turn the double play anyway and his throw was so far up the first base line that Brandon Belt could only watch helplessly as Crawford’s throw bounced into the Cubs dugout and allowed Jason Heyward to advance to second base.

You know the rest, Hunter Strickland played to his strengths and threw a one hundred mile an hour fastball, Javy Baez played to his strengths in anticipating a fastball, and Baez won the battle, and with it the series. Brandon Crawford ended up winning his second straight gold glove, and since the Giants bullpen was horrendous throughout the second half of the 2016 season the goat horns for the Giants game four collapse were fitted for Bruce Bochy and his rotating band of relievers, with Crawford being spared. It was also reassuring to Cub fans that gold glove caliber shortstops of all teams (and not just Alex Gonzalez) can make errors during the pressure cooker of the playoffs. But enough about the NLDS, let’s move onto the World Series. Since the madness of Game Seven of the 2016 World Series deserves its own section I’ve divided the analysis below into two sections: moments from Games One through Six of the World Series, and moments from Game Seven of the World Series.

Games One through Six of the World Series:

Jose Ramerez Only Has Warning Track Power – Game Two, Bottom of the First: 

Game Two of the 2016 World Series is largely remembered for Kyle Schwarber’s coming out party (Schwarber went two for four, with a walk and two RBIs), and Jake Arrieta’s five and one third innings of no-hit baseball, as the Cubs evened the series by winning their first World Series game since 1945. But the Cubs fortunes in game two, and potentially the entire series, could have taken a turn for the worse immediately in the bottom of the first inning. After retiring the first two Indians hitters, Jake Arrieta, as he was known to do through much of 2016, temporarily lost control and walked both Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli in consecutive at bats to put runners on first and second with two outs working with what at the time was only a 1-0 Cubs lead. Jose Ramirez then worked a 3-1 count on a still erratic Arrieta, and with Arrieta needing a strike to avoid walking the bases loaded he went to his four seam fastball.

I’m guessing in an effort to gain more control Arrieta took something off of his fastball since the pitch crossed the plate at 93 mph just above belt high. Ramirez wasn’t fooled and launched the pitch deep into centerfield where fortunately Dexter Fowler ranged to his left and caught the ball one step from the wall. Looking back this was an obvious case of good fortune for the Cubs since so many home runs were hit to this part of Progressive Field during the 2016 postseason. Additionally, the weather in game two (game time temperature of 43 degrees) may have played a part in knocking down Ramirez’s drive as it was significantly lower than the average game time temperature for games at Progressive Field during the ALCS/World Series (61 degrees). Obviously with hindsight we can see that Arrieta was able to settle down, and the Cubs were able to knock Trevor Bauer out early, so even if the Rameriz drive had gone for a home run the Cubs still may have come back to win the game. But after being dominated in game one by Corey Kluber, falling behind quickly in game two would have been a perilous way to begin the franchise’s first World Series in 71 years.

Anthony Rizzo Wears Down Trevor Bauer – Game Two, Top of the Third: 

Besides the obvious candidates (i.e. ninth inning NLDS game four, tenth inning World Series game 7), the top of the third in game two might be the postseason inning at the plate that makes the Cubs brass the most proud since it displayed the balance between the patient and selectively aggressive hitting philosophy that was brought over by Theo Epstein & Co. in 2011.

After Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant were retired, and Anthony Rizzo fell behind Trevor Bauer 0-2, Rizzo was able to rally and force Bauer to throw four straight balls and draw the walk. Ben Zobrist then followed up with a single moving Rizzo to second bringing up Kyle Schwarber. Bauer then fell behind Schwarber 3-0 and thought he could sneak a fastball by a hitter who had only had ten plate appearances so far in 2016. Bauer thought wrong, Schwarber was ready and lined his 3-0 fastball up the middle to drive in Rizzo and give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. That was the only run the Cubs scored that inning, but Rizzo’s walk signified the “We Never Quit” mentality that the Cubs had been preaching all year and what Theo Epstein envisioned at the big league level during the lean years of 2012-2014.

Kyle Hendricks Picks Off Francisco Lindor – Game Three, Top of the First:

Game three was arguably Kyle Hendrick’s shakiest outing in the postseason as he ended up going only four and two thirds innings, while giving up six hits and two walks. But it could have been much worse than that had Hendricks not caught Francisco Lindor unaware as he took his lead off of first base. Lindor had just singled to centerfield to put runners on first and third with only one out in the top of the first with Mike Napoli coming up.

After Hendricks picked off Lindor, he was able to strike out Napoli to end a promising early scoring chance for the Indians. By keeping the game tied at zero, not only did Hendricks ability to bend without breaking (with an assist from Justin Grimm) beginning in the top of the first inning save Joe Maddon from overusing the few members of the bullpen that he trusted, it also forced Terry Francona to use his three key relievers (Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen) for at least an inning and a third each. As Cub fans know now, the extended use of the Indians bullpen throughout the 2016 postseason was finally catching up with them, and this overuse was not helped by Indians manager Terry Francona’s actions in the next moment.

Terry Francona Gets Drunk Off of Miller Time – Game Four: 

This was the most depressing game of the World Series, so I’m only going to give a brief recap of it: John Lackey wasn’t great, Kris Byrant made uncharacteristic mistakes in the field, Corey Kluber stymied the Cubs hitters again, and the Cubs bullpen was mediocre.

This combination of factors combined to give the Indians a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Yet Terry Francona elected to bring in Andrew Miller for not one, but two innings despite the strong lead. Since Joe Maddon continues to get second guessed for using Aroldis Chapman multiple innings in a similar situation in game six, it seems only fair that Francona’s use of Miller in game four come under scrutiny as well. Not only did Miller’s second inning in game four lead to lead to him giving up his first 2016 postseason run (in the form of the Dexter Fowler home run shown above), combined with his game three appearance it left Miller unavailable to pitch the next night in game five. This proved costly for the Indians in game five as Trevor Bauer was forced to complete what ended up being a three run fourth inning for the Cubs that proved to be the difference in that game.

Jon Lester Strikes Out Brandon Guyer, Prevents Further Insult From Chris Archer-Matt Garza Trade From Occurring – Game Five, Top of the Fifth:

The Cubs had just secured their first lead since the ninth inning of game two after scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth when Carlos Santana led off the top of the fifth inning with a double. After getting Jose Ramirez to ground out, Santana stood on third with one as Brandon Guyer came to the plate. Over the course of a short series sample sizes become so small that as fans we start to fear opposing players that we had barely thought off prior to the start of a series. Brandon Guyer became one of those feared players; Guyer ended up finishing the World Series with .300/.563(!!!)/.400 line in sixteen plate appearances, and he came up to the plate in the top of the fifth only needing a fly ball to tie the game. Guyer worked a nine pitch at bat and ran the count full when Lester delivered a four seam fastball that appeared to be slightly off the outside corner that home plate umpire Tony Randazzo called as strike three. Both Fox’s graphic and the Brooks Baseball plot below show the pitch to be outside; luckily for the Cubs Jon Lester got the benefit of the doubt.

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 9.06.25 PM

Lester then got Roberto Perez to ground out to end the inning as the Indians wasted a leadoff double and did not score in the fifth inning.

Franciso Lindor’s Misadventures on the Bases Continue – Game Five, Top of the Sixth:

At a certain point Jon Lester’s inability to throw over to bases became such public knowledge that base runners often felt compelled to attempt a stolen base, even if it meant ignoring basic base running principles. This happened to Francisco Lindor twice in the World Series as he was caught trying to steal second base twice by the Jon Lester/David Ross battery. Both times Lindor got out to huge leads from first base, but then failed to get quick first steps towards second base, perhaps subconsciously thinking that his big leads would allow David Ross no chance to throw him out.

The second time Francisco Lindor was caught stealing second base came in the top of the sixth inning in game five. Lindor had just singled in Rajai Davis (who had successfully stolen second base), and the Indians had the go-ahead run at the plate with Mike Napoli at the plate and two outs. Knowing that Lester was (in his words) “grinding for the last couple of innings,” it’s possible that he may have left a mistake over the middle of the plate to Mike Napoli that could’ve have either tied the game or given the Indians the lead. Luckily for Lester, David Ross came to play in his final game at Wrigley Field, and by throwing out Lindor at second Ross preserved the Cubs 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning of game five.

Aroldis Chapman Didn’t Start the Fire, But Puts It Out – Game Five, Top of the Seventh: 

As previously stated, aside from Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, and Aroldis Chapman, Joe Maddon didn’t seem to have a lot of trust in the rest of the members of his bullpen pitching high leverage innings in the World Series. With Montgomery having pitched in games three and four the previous two days, it looked like it was down to Edwards and Chapman to get the final nine outs of game five to keep the Cubs season alive. Maddon brought in Edwards to begin the top of the seventh inning, and had Chapman warming in the bullpen to use when needed.

Edwards promptly gave up a single to Mike Napoli (that was prevented from getting to the wall on a really good play by Ben Zobrist), and a passed ball by Willson Contreras allowed Napoli to reach second base with nobody out. Edwards was able to get Carlos Santana to fly out to left before Maddon elected to bring in Chapman with the tying run on second and one out. Chapman immediately made his presence felt by striking out Jose Ramirez for the second out, but could not keep the momentum rolling as he lost control of a fastball and hit Brandon Guyer. Now both the tying and go-ahead runs were on base, and with Joe Maddon having played his final hand, this was Chapman’s game to win or lose. Chapman got Roberto Perez to ground out to second to end the Indians threat in the top of the seventh inning, struck out Francisco Lindor with the tying run on third in the top of the eighth inning, and struck out Jose Ramirez on three pitches to end the game and keep the Cubs season alive. But enough about games 1-6 of the World Series, let’s move onto Game Seven, arguably the most exciting baseball game ever played.

Game 7 of the World Series:

Kyle Hendricks Becomes the Right Handed Andy Pettitte, Picks Off Jose Ramirez – Game Seven, Bottom of the Second:

Leading off the bottom of the second inning Jose Ramirez rocketed an infield single off of Kyle Hendrick’s glove and stood on first base with Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate. Hendricks made two consecutive pick-off throws to first, and on the second one he caught Ramirez leaning the wrong way and picked him off. This was Hendrick’s third pick-off of a runner at first base in his last three postseason starts.

I can’t imagine that this feat has been duplicated in the modern baseball era before, especially by a right handed pitcher. In total for the 2016 postseason, the Cubs were able to either pick off a runner, catch a runner stealing, or record an outfield assist a staggering 13 times in just 17 postseason games. This pick off also takes on added significance because on the very next pitch Chisenhall lined a single into left field. Instead of runners on first and second with no outs, the Indians were left with Chisenhall on first with one out. This difference is crucial because it allows for our next moment, which focuses on the next at bat in this inning, to unfold.

Rajai Davis’s Night Begins Inauspiciously, Javy Baez Turn Two – Game Seven, Bottom of the Second: 

With the Indians already having made hard contact twice in the bottom of the second inning, Rajai Davis stood at the plate with a runner on first and one out. Kyle Hendricks was able to get his first pitch sinker in enough on Davis’s hands to induce him to ground out weakly to Kris Bryant, who was playing in at third base. Bryant quickly went to second to get the force out—usually the only out that a team would get on this kind of play. Fortunately for the Cubs they have the luxury of playing Javy Baez at second base. Check out the chart below, which utilizes Statcast defensive data, featured in BP Wrigleyville alum Rian Watt’s most recent piece in The Athletic.

Statcast confirms what your eyes have been telling you. Baez is an unbelievable fielder and his cannon at second base allows him to turn double plays most other second basemen can’t make. This was the case on the Cubs pennant clinching double play earlier against the Dodgers, and it was proven true once again when the Cubs infield was able to double up the speedy Rajai Davis for a critical 5-4-3 double play to end an inning in which Hendricks seemed to be struggling to limit hard contact.

Cubs Dodge a Mike Napoli Sized Bullet – Game Seven, Bottom of the Third:

While the Cubs were in control of game seven through much of the first seven and two thirds innings, this was one of the only points in game seven in which the Indians could’ve have stolen both the momentum and series away. Coco Crisp led off the bottom of the third with a double, and later scored on a Carlos Santana single into right field as three of the first four Indians batters in the inning managed to reach base.

With runners on first and second, Hendricks ran the count to 3-0 on Francisco Lindor and Progressive Field felt ready to explode. But Hendricks battled back on Lindor and got him to fly out to left, leaving only Mike Napoli in the way of exiting the inning further unscathed. Napoli had a bad series, slashing just .167/.231/.167 over the course of 26 plate appearances during the World Series. But since baseball is random, on an 0-2 count against the pitcher who led the NL in ERA during the 2016 season, Napoli hit perhaps his hardest ball of the series. Fortunately for the Cubs, it was smashed almost directly into Kris Bryant’s glove at third base. But for a couple of feet to the left or right Napoli’s smash gets by Bryant, and perhaps it’s Napoli who’s seen as opening the floodgates to an Indians World Series win, and not as an aging slugger who came up short when his team needed him the most.

Terry Francona Channels His Inner Grady Little, Leaves Corey Kluber In Too Long – Game Seven, Top of the Fifth: 

After an entire post season of pitching on short rest due to an injury shortened rotation, Corey Kluber finally ran out of gas during game seven of the World Series. In his four innings of work he gave up four runs and had no strikeouts, with only three of his fifty seven pitches inducing swing and misses. After the Cubs scored two runs in the fourth inning off of Kluber, many people thought his night was done.

But Terry Francona elected to send Kluber back out to face Javy Baez in the top of the fifth inning. Kluber tried to throw a first pitch cutter to Baez, but at eighty eight miles an hour it didn’t have the same bite to it and caught too much of the outer third part of the plate. Baez, like the previous postseason, jumped on a fatigued pitcher’s first pitch and sent it out to right field for a solo home run. Francona took out Kluber immediately after that in favor of Andrew Miller, and in the back of his mind must have known that he ridden his ace for one pitch too long.

Jon Lester Strikes Out Jason Kipnis – Game Seven, Bottom of the Seventh: 

In a Rajai Davis-less world this may have been the key moment that Cub fans remember to close out game seven. Jon Lester had steadied himself after his abrupt entrance in the fifth inning, and faced Jason Kipnis with two outs, a runner on second, and a three run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. If Kipnis was able to drive the runner in, the Indians would be able to bring the tying run to the plate with the heart of their order coming up.

After Lester missed on a fastball inside, and Kipnis fouled off a cutter, the count was 1-1. Lester than got Kipnis to swing through a fastball on the outer part of the plate, and finished Kipnis off with curveball that darted low and away out of the strike zone. As Lester pumped his fist and screamed in delight as he walked off the mound, and Kipnis tossed his bat aside in disgust, it felt like the Indians, who had fought undermanned throughout the entire postseason, felt resigned to their fate. Of course it didn’t play out this way at all, which is what makes the next moment even more vital.

Aroldis Chapman Shifts Gears, Uses Slider to Strike Out Yan Gomes – Game Seven, Bottom of the Eighth: 

While Chapman’s escape act in the ninth inning against the top of the Indians lineup gets the attention, his strikeout of Yan Gomes to end the eighth inning was no less vital. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a highlight of this strikeout so I will do my best to describe it in detail here.

After the Rajai Davis home run that tied the game up at six, Coco Crisp lined a 1-0 fastball into left field to put the series winning run on base. At this point Chapman had faced three batters, and all three batters had hit his diminished fastball hard. Thus after falling behind 2-0 on Yan Gomes, Chapman took a different approach and threw two straight sliders that ran down and in on the right handed Gomes. Gomes swung and missed at both of them. Having put the threat of the slider in the back of Gomes mind, Chapman went back to his fastball. Gomes, having to commit sooner now that he had two strikes, couldn’t check his swing on a fastball outside the zone and struck out to end the inning. And if that wasn’t enough Crisp had been running on the last pitch of the inning and Ross’s throw to second got by Javy Baez into centerfield.

That means the Cubs were a Yan Gomes check swing away from having to face Gomes with a full count and the series winning run on third, all with the top of the Indians lineup coming up after. Chapman’s success with his slider was noticed by Miguel Montero, and the battery used the formula Chapman had used on Gomes in the following inning, which at the very least, got the Indians top three hitters off balance in the bottom of the ninth as Chapman retired them in order.

Every Drought Ends With Rain – Game Seven Rain Delay Bottom of Ninth Inning: 

I could have chosen Albert Almora’s tag up to second in the top of the tenth, Kris Bryant’s play on the final out of the game, or any number of crazy things that happened in that tenth inning. But I don’t think any of those things would have been possible without the rain delay.

After over a century of weird things happening to the franchise’s detriment, one of the weirdest things of all happens that fundamentally changes the outlook of a game when all hope seemed lost. What are the odds that the final game of the baseball season gets delayed right before the start of extra innings? I’m guessing it is probably about the same odds that a franchise would go 108 years without winning a championship. It’s fitting that one long shot event helped lead to the demise of the other.

Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports

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