With the year winding to a close, Baseball Prospectus is revisiting some of our favorite articles of the year. This was originally published on October 27, 2016.
I like people watching, and I suspect I’m not alone. People watching is the only reason anyone likes going to IKEA, and the reason you want to leave IKEA as quickly as possible. It turns out folks can be terrible in small but significant ways when parenting while picking out furniture. People, when they don’t know they are being observed, do all sorts of funny, kind, and awful things. Often they just do human things, like take soda refills they didn’t pay for, or pick up things for a stranger who has dropped them without being asked, or suddenly smirk when they’ve remembered something funny but private. Other people are just like us.
Field Marshal Terry Francona vs. Generalissimo Joe Maddon.
Imagine you are Field Marshal Terry Francona, lined up for battle with your 50 divisions behind you. You and your troops have fought well, having just defeated skilled armies from Boston and Toronto. But your nemesis now is Generalissimo Joe Maddon, who has 70 divisions to throw at you. Picture these two armies fighting over seven separate battlefields—first to seize four fields wins. What’s an underdog to do?
Suppose Maddon puts 10 divisions into position for each battle. Francona could mirror his opponent and evenly spread his forces, but he would be outnumbered all along his front. Or, he could do what outnumbered commanders have done for a long time: concentrate his forces selectively.
Ten innings of high-stakes lever-pulling from Joe Maddon and Terry Francoa.
There’s real freedom in a Game 7. A manager has just one imperative: win this game. Even in a Game 6, a skipper will draw criticism (and perhaps do genuine damage) if he makes a poor decision with regard to some future contest. Just ask Joe Maddon. He entered Wednesday night’s winner-take-all contest with the strange usage of Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 hanging around his neck, and the daunting task of getting 27 outs with a bullpen he largely didn’t trust. Since it was Game 7, though, he had a path to that destination.
One of the best, wildest games in World Series history.
One hundred and eight years after the Cubs last held the title of World Champions, 212 days after the first pitch of the 2016 season, and 26 days after the Cubs took the postseason by storm, Game 7 of the World Series unfolded exactly as predicted: with a rain-delayed, three-homer, 10-inning, heart-pounding win.
Baseball’s regular season is often described as a marathon. Six months of nearly uninterrupted, daily competition during which a single win or loss--or even a few of them consecutively--barely registers as noteworthy within the context of a 162-game schedule. It’s part of the sport’s charm, as games feel more like daily rituals than special events. And then the postseason arrives and that entire perspective shifts. Each game suddenly takes on huge importance and each win or loss is analyzed within an inch of its life. That, too, is part of the sport’s charm--to spend so long leisurely cruising down a road only to realize it was a runway and you’re airborne.
Everything ends. Tonight, not only does the 2016 baseball season come to its long-awaited conclusion, but one team will end a championship drought spanning a period of time best served by using the term “century.” For Cleveland, that is “almost a century”–68 years. For Chicago, that is “over a century”--a reign of error that has cemented itself in the annals of baseball history unlike any other.
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Addison Russell's grand slam broke it open, but several smaller moments led to the Indians' undoing in Game 6.
In any baseball game that ends with a score of 9-3, especially any World Series game that ends with a score of 9-3, the central question any casual spectator is inevitably going to have is “so when did it turn from a close call into a laugher?” This question, more than any other, defines the blowout win or loss, since it gives an idea of how truly one-sided the game was. Did the winning team jump out to a 9-0 lead in the first and never look back? Or was this a 1-1 game until the eighth inning when some bullpen mismanagement turned a leftover smoldering campfire into Chernobyl?
Did the Cubs and Joe Maddon win the battle, but set themselves up to lose the war?
Cubs manager Joe Maddon only made one truly impactful move in the larger story of the series in Game 6. With a 7-2 lead and two on with two outs in the seventh inning—a fairly low-leverage spot, likely to produce even lower leverage eighth and ninth innings—Aroldis Chapman entered the game. Maddon likely could’ve made it all the way through using his medium-leverage pitchers like Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, Travis Wood, and Hector Rondon, and of course saving Chapman at that exact moment hardly precluded asking him to pitch later if a higher-leverage situation arose.
Flame-throwers, tip drills, and some life at Wrigley Field.
John Smoltz knows a thing or two about big moments in October baseball, to say the least. The Hall of Famer-turned-commentator set the table for the viewing audience in the bottom of the fourth inning last night by basically saying that the Cubs had to score in that frame or they’d be in serious trouble.