CHICAGO -- The World Series tested Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon's decision-making abilities, but Sunday's 7-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals might not be far behind. Of course, there's a lot less meaning in an early June game, but that doesn't mean the judgment calls come any easier.
From the fourth inning on, Maddon had to make the right decisions on his pinch hitters as well as his bullpen. One mistake could have made the difference between the Cubs' first sweep of the Cardinals at Wrigley Field since 2006 and their seventh loss in their last 10 games.
"It was a very active game," Maddon said afterward.
Let's examine and grade each decision:
Pulling Kyle Hendricks
The Cubs' offense has been stuck in neutral for over two months, so when there's a chance to capitalize, they need to jump on it. Hendricks had just given up four runs in the top of the fourth inning, having thrown a career-high 43 pitches to get through it. With two on and two outs Maddon sent Albert Almora Jr. to the plate to hit for Hendricks with the Cubs trailing 4-1.
"Kyle wasn't himself," Maddon said. "Things weren't working in his favor."
Almora promptly singled to right, and an error allowed him to get to third as two runs scored on the play.
"I had already done my routine," Almora said. "I didn't care when my name was called. I was given a chance and came through."
Maddon added: "The big thing we've been trying to do is use the opposite field. That's a big part of what you do when you get into a rut. The fact that he went to right field was even better."
Pulling Justin Grimm
Grimm was making his second appearance since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa, using 22 pitches to get through the fifth. Should he have come out for a second inning? In hindsight, it's an easier call as Hector Rondon allowed the Cardinals to tie the game. Maddon explained the one-inning philosophy.
"Part of that is if a guy is struggling at all, get him in, get him out," he said.
Remember, Grimm had a 6.61 ERA coming into the game, having pitched a clean inning in San Diego earlier in the week. Believing in him for a second inning was a risky proposition, as Maddon figured getting one good inning out of him was more than enough. Hindsight doesn't work here. Not when the guy who replaces him has an ERA two runs lower.
Going to Rondon wasn't the issue. The Cubs had a two-run lead and he was pitching the sixth inning -- not the eighth or ninth. Rondon has a paycheck to earn as well, but Maddon may have stuck with him too long. It took a hit, walk, wild pitch, RBI groundout and then run-scoring double before Maddon brought in Pedro Strop.
"I thought, based on what I've been seeing lately with Ronnie, this was perfect," Maddon said. "That part of the batting order for Ronnie."
Pulling Rondon any time before the Cardinals tied it seemed like the safer call, hindsight or not.
Strop was the only reliever to pitch more than an inning; he came in for Rondon in the sixth and then pitched a clean seventh. It took him only nine pitches to end the Cardinals' threat and keep the game tied 6-6. After that, he needed only seven more pitches to get through the seventh.
"He was the linchpin of that victory tonight," Maddon said.
Jon Jay pinch hitting
Perhaps it was obvious to some, but with two on and two outs in the seventh inning it wasn't a total slam dunk to go to Jay in a 6-6 tie. Maddon could have used Javier Baez, perhaps saving Jay for more of a contact situation where a base hit wasn't necessarily needed. But Jay came through against righty Matt Bowman, singling home the winning run.
"He's the sixth man here," Maddon said. "You can pop him in there and it's instant offense."
Maddon had made up his mind that each reliever would get an inning and Uehara would be the closer, considering Wade Davis was unavailable having pitched Friday and Saturday. But Edwards has been lights-out this season, save a moment or two where he has walked some batters, as he did Friday. But he only threw 12 pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth inning, so letting him start the ninth seemed like a possibility. Not for Maddon, who went to Uehara knowing he has had issues in the second game of back-to-back outings. The opposition was 5-for-8 with two walks and six runs off him in those situations. Edwards, meanwhile, had a 0.87 ERA coming in and was used for 2/3 of an inning Friday.
"I had in my mind to go one [inning]," Maddon said. "Wade was not available, so I was going to go one inning."
Uehara had a 1-2-3 ninth inning, but that doesn't mean it was the right call. If Edwards is a future closer, why not let him and that sparkling ERA close things out? Maddon uses the term "outcome bias" a lot, so you can't be swayed by the ending. Next time, it would be nice to see Edwards for two innings.