WASHINGTON -- It’s already the postseason of second-guessing managers, and now you can include the Chicago Cubs' World Series-winning skipper, Joe Maddon, in the group.
New York Yankees head man Joe Girardi has been through the social media skewer over the past couple of days, while Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker didn’t exactly push all the right buttons in a Friday night loss. Now it’s Maddon’s turn to face the criticism, after he allowed right-handed reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to face all-world lefty hitter Bryce Harper as the tying run in the eighth inning on Saturday of Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
Harper crushed a hanging curveball out to right on a 3-1 pitch, not long before lefty Mike Montgomery gave up a three-run homer to righty Ryan Zimmerman, sealing a come-from-behind, 6-3 victory for Washington. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the sequence in the same inning was the first in postseason history where a righty reliever gave up a home run to a lefty and then a lefty gave one up to a righty.
“It’s Bryce Harper,” Edwards said. “He can hit.”
The key decision was to stick with Edwards against Harper, even as Montgomery waited in the bullpen. The Nationals star has hit a home run off a lefty once every 40 at-bats this season, as compared to once every 12 against righties.
“That was the only option,” Maddon said after the game. “That was the right option. C.J. was the right man for the job. Harper is good, C.J. is really good.
“C.J.'s numbers against left-handed hitters are amongst the best in all of baseball.”
It’s true: Edwards is very good against lefties. In fact, he’s tougher on lefties than righties, having given up just two homers against them this season, as compared to four against righties in nearly the same number of at-bats. He has a .119 batting average against when a lefty stands in, while righties hit .148.
“Right pitch, but I just hung it,” Edwards said. “I just didn’t get it down. If I get it down, it’s a rollover to [Cubs first baseman Anthony] Rizzo or he hits it hard somewhere but not out. I’ll tip my cap to him.”
The home run was the first allowed by Edwards since Aug. 16 and just the eighth hit in 81 at-bats that ended on Edwards' curveball this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But here’s the thing: His great numbers against that side of the batter’s box weren’t all achieved against lefties of Harper’s stature. Of course, Edwards has gotten some good lefties out, but no matter how you slice the numbers, the facts remain: Harper had hit 26 home runs this season against righties and just three against lefties.
The Cubs and Nationals have a total of seven lefty relievers between them, yet none has faced a lefty in a key moment so far in the series. Baker opted to bypass putting a lefty against Rizzo on Friday; before Rizzo promptly doubled home a run, while Maddon chose to stick with Edwards on Harper. Why have them if you aren’t going to use them? At this point in the season, going batter by batter is commonplace. Once the tying run came to the plate, Montgomery (having given up three home runs to lefties) against Harper (having hit three off them) was a matchup that made a lot of sense.
Just as important now for Chicago is not losing Edwards or Montgomery from a mental standpoint. The playoffs are just getting going and both will be needed again. The Cubs made sure to support their guys, despite the controversy around when they were used.
“I’ll take C.J. in that situation 10 out of 10 times, and I like our chances in the end,” Game 2 starter Jon Lester said. “We all have their backs. Hell, we’ve all been there. Turn the page. They’ll be fine. We have each other’s backs.”
Maddon echoed the sentiments and was emphatic about one thing: “If that happens again, you're going to see C.J. back out there. He made a bad pitch and the guy didn't miss it, and that's it. Sometimes that happens. Bryce is good. C.J. is good. Bryce got him.”
Lester felt the same way, which is the only attitude to take, considering these are just the first couple of days of the postseason.
“Hopefully, the situation arises on Monday and they go right back out there and dominate,” Lester said.
Come Monday at Wrigley Field, all eyes will be on the managers -- as much as those pitchers -- as the series becomes the best of three games. One thing is for sure: Edwards and Montgomery want that chance again. Perhaps it’ll come against the other side of the batter’s box the next time.
“It’s a tough situation, but those are the situations I want to be in,” Montgomery said. “It just didn’t go my way this time.”
Edwards was asked how quickly he wanted to be back on the mound.
“I wish I could have it tomorrow [Sunday],” he responded.
That won’t happen. This series could use a day off.