Chicago Cubs: AL Wild Card outcome offered glimpse into hell for Cubs fans

With Aroldis Chapman at the back of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen, could a ‘Showalter Moment’ come to fruition with Joe Maddon in the upcoming NLDS?

Watching the Baltimore Orioles’ heartbreaking loss in the American League Wild Card game Tuesday night left one question looming in everyone’s mind: how could Buck Showalter not use Zach Britton in such a scenario?

Britton, who will no doubt draw votes for the AL Cy Young honors this winter, was one of three pitchers on the O’s roster who rode the pine. Three.

As everyone knows now, Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion crushed a walk-off, three-run bomb in the bottom of the 11th against Ubaldo Jimenez. After the game, Showalter offered these (shaky) explanations of his decision to stick with the right-hander over tapping Britton.

” … You could (regret) afterwards, but we went 4 innings trying to get to that spot (of using Britton) … Playing on the road had something to do with it too … Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo …”

Showalter’s other relievers tiptoed in and out of danger in the late innings – not to mention the extra frames. In the ninth, it looked like the Blue Jays were ready to walk it off, but Darren O’Day got Russell Martin to hit into an inning-ending twin killing.

By the time it got to Jimenez in the 11th, things unraveled quickly for Baltimore after Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson singled back-to-back. With men on the corners and one away, Encarnacion dug in.

Wrong Move?

At this point, assuming Britton was healthy, there’s no reasonable explanation for him not getting the call. Frankly, he should have gotten it sooner than that, but that’s another argument in and of itself.

Instead, Jimenez, a pitcher whose opponents sported a .887 OPS with runners in scoring position this year, faced Encarnacion – and the rest is history.

Sure, the former Cy Young Award winner had been hot. Over the last month, his 2.08 ERA and .178 BAA were some of the best marks on the team. But that’s still not an excuse to use him over Britton – not even close. Even Jimenez himself commented on that after the game.

“Yeah, of course — he’s our best pitcher. And couldn’t get into the game.’’

What could this mean for the Chicago Cubs in their upcoming series?

Now, the Orioles’ season comes to an end, with Toronto advancing to their second consecutive American League Division Series. Watching their undoing, though, offered a chilling sight for too many Chicago Cubs fans.

Joe Maddon‘s club plays host to Game One of the NLDS on Friday at Wrigley Field. Expectations are at an all-time high and Vegas odds place the Cubs as the favorites to win it all. With the team’s storied – and sometimes tragic – history, there were more than a few who were uneasy watching the O’s fall.

Imagine it: the Cubs fighting for their World Series hopes in an elimination game next week. It’s tied up in the toughest of high-leverage situations and instead of Aroldis Chapman, Maddon taps Jason Hammel.

It’s not anything against Hammel – he’s been solid during his time in Chicago. At times, he’s pitched like an All-Star. But there isn’t a single arm in the Cubs’ bullpen that can go toe-to-toe with the dominance of Chapman.

Acquiring Heat

At the All-Star Break, Chicago traded for the best reliever available in Chapman. The flame-throwing lefty has not disappointed, either, closing with authority down the stretch. Since the trade, he’s averaging 15.5 K/9, a 0.825 WHIP, and a .082 FIP across 26 2/3 innings. His 2.6 WAR this season ranks fourth amongst big league relievers – surpassing even Britton in that regard.

Even now, with the dust somewhat settled following last night’s dramatic finish, I still can’t believe Britton didn’t see the mound. But for Chicago Cubs fans, there’s also a distinct difference between the O’s and the North Siders: their managers.

Maddon is notorious for playing matchups and mixing-and-matching relievers in creative ways – dating back to his days in Tampa. All season long, he played the matchups and has done so with great success.

Chapman himself pitched multiple innings on occasion and late in the year, even with the Cubs trailing, Maddon made sure his closer got regular work. He’s used to pitching in all types of situations – and the Cubs’ skipper showed his value.

 

For a Orioles’ fan base desperately hoping for a championship, Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game offered a hellish glimpse at when things go horribly wrong. And for Cubs fans tuning in, it was a chilling reminder: nothing can be taken for granted come October.