LOS ANGELES -- As the ball off the bat of Justin Turner sailed over the center field wall to end Game 2 of the NLCS with a 4-1 Los Angeles Dodgers victory over the Chicago Cubs -- giving L.A. a 2-0 series lead -- many people were wondering why John Lackey was on the hill instead of Wade Davis.
After all, it was Davis who Maddon entrusted with 2 1/3 innings to close down the NLDS without even getting Lackey up in the bullpen. The only plausible explanation was that Davis was unavailable after that huge reliever workload just a few days ago, but Davis had been seen warning up earlier.
So what was it?
"I really just needed him for the save tonight," Maddon said. "He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances you don't get him up and then don't get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched."
Come again, Joe? You were managing the biggest game of the season to this point to a stat?
The most scary hitter on the Dodgers is Turner. Maddon's best pitcher is Davis and the winning run is standing on second base. And Maddon is worried about a stat.
Longtime CBS Sports readers know I've lamented managers managing to a stat (desperately getting a starter through five innings so he can get the win or making sure the closer gets all the save chances, no matter what) for years. For all the pushback against sabermetrics from the old-school crowd, they sure do concern themselves with saves and the pitcher win, which are, you know, stats. It's embarrassing.
Here's the thing, though. I understand it in the regular season to an extent. I hate it, but I know why they are doing it. Players are working toward arbitration raises and those stats can matter. Some players still hold those particular stats (W, SV) near and dear and get upset about not getting the chance. To stick with Maddon, go back and find Lackey's reactions when he gets pulled with the lead during the fifth inning.
Like I said, I hate it, but I understand needing to work with the players.
In the postseason, though? Get outta here. This is absolute madness. We can't say negligence, because Maddon clearly knew the situation and made a conscious choice. No, this was self-sabotage.
One can't help but think back to Maddon overmanaging the hell out of Game 6 of the World Series last year. He tired Aroldis Chapman's arm to the point that in Game 7, Chapman had nothing and coughed up the lead. The Cubs won, so Maddon still got to enjoy the offseason as the World Series champion, but his handling of the bullpen in the latter stages of that series was abominable.
He hasn't covered himself in glory this postseason with his use of the bullpen, either. He used Carl Edwards Jr. every single game in the NLDS, making his most talented reliever into a punchline in the process. At least Edwards showed his true self in Game 2 of this series. How about Maddon running Hector Rondon out there in Game 1 with a tie game, despite Rondon having been left off the roster for the NLDS? It was questionable at the very least.
Though his options aren't very good this postseason with the bullpen -- let's face it, almost everyone has had a meltdown so far out there -- the decision at the end of Game 2 and the reason for it in tandem were straight up brutal.
The counter-argument here would be, "What if the Cubs get the lead and don't have Davis left?" That would be great from the Cubs' perspective! They didn't get walked off in the ninth by Turner and ended up taking the lead! You keep zeros off the board as long as possible, and that means using your best options and not holding anything back. Once the real game is over, the silly hypotheticals are nothing but rhetoric.
You can't manage to a stat when the season could be on the line. Pick your best option and hope to keep extending the game until you win it. You hold back, you get burned. Turner and the Dodgers' burned Maddon, and now the Cubs need to win four out of the next five games against the best team in baseball or else the season is over.