I was on 670 The Score a couple nights ago – just a quick guest thing, I am not cool – and I was asked about David Ross so far as the Cubs’ manager.
Since there’s only so much we can really know about a manager’s performance, especially so early on, my go-to remark was about how Joe Maddon was an excellent in-game manager overall, and I still found cause to beef with a decision of his about once every week or two. With Ross, so far, through almost six weeks, I’d really only had one mild beef earlier in the season. I just couldn’t come up with much, and I couldn’t even remember that particular beef. It’s just been so rare.
Then the very next night – last night – I had beef.
Most of us did, several times, about the pitching decisions in the Cubs’ extra-innings 8-7 win over the Pirates. While watching live, it seemed like Ross was way too slow to go get Jon Lester, turned to the wrong guy to preserve the lead in the 8th inning, and coordinated the guys after that in a bizarre way, including having new LOOGY Josh Osich face at least one more righty than he had to. I wasn’t irate, but I was definitely perplexed.
But, not unlike a whole lotta the (few) beefs I would have with Maddon, you wake up the next day with more benefit of the doubt in mind, you hear more of the “why” from the manager, and it all starts to seem a lot more reasonable. You might still disagree with the moves, but at least you can better understand them.
So let’s start with Lester. Through five innings, Lester had thrown only 76 pitches, allowing only one run. That he would come out for the 6th inning with a 6-1 lead was never a question.
HOWEVER – Lester had been in and out of trouble, allowing at least one early baserunner in each of the first four innings. He wasn’t getting whiffs, and some of the contact was pretty solid. With the Pirates lineup turning over to the third time through, ears should’ve been raised to a quicker pull, even with the 6-1 lead and a quick 5th inning from Lester. Instead of a quick pull, it was a very slow one, with Lester permitted to give up consecutive single, walk, double, single, double before he was pulled. That cannot be permitted to happen in that situation, even as it developed very quickly. When you go out for that first mound visit after the walk, you tell Lester he’s about done, and that he needs to buy Colin Rea a little more time. You tell Willson Contreras to take an extra visit after the subsequent hard double – buy more time – and then you go out and pull him right there. That easily could’ve saved the Cubs three runs.
At least that’s how I saw things as it was happening live. What we didn’t know at the time, and what no doubt impacted the later decisions with which we beefed: Ross had some relievers he didn’t want to use.
Ross says he needed to stay away from some guys tonight, which is why he went to Dan Winkler in the eighth inning. #Cubs
— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) September 2, 2020
For those wondering about Cubs bullpen moves tonight, David Ross intimated there was more at play, as in trying to stay away from certain guys, but didn’t reveal which guys/reasons….hence it looked a little diff than you may have expected.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) September 2, 2020
So, then, if Ross knew he had two or three relievers that he didn’t want to use, you might understand slightly more his extra push to try to get Jon Lester through that 6th inning. From there, Rea and Kyle Ryan got the Cubs through that inning and the next one. The match-ups made sense. Fine.
For the 8th, though, before and after the rain delay, it was Dan Winkler getting the inning with a one-run lead (he immediately gave up a game-tying homer). Normally, that inning would go to Rowan Wick. Or Ryan Tepera. Or maybe even Craig Kimbrel. Jeremy Jeffress, you’d presume, was being held for the 9th inning and the top/middle of the lineup. Fine. But then Wick wound up taking over for Winkler, so it seems like Wick wasn’t a guy who was unavailable. Why didn’t he just start that inning?
I think you have to guess that Ryan Tepera, at a minimum, was unavailable. He easily would’ve gotten either that spot or one of the extra-innings spots calling for strikeouts. He pitched both weekend games, threw a lot of pitches, and did not have control at all on Sunday. Hopefully it’s not a minor injury issue (it can’t be a known major injury issue, because the Cubs made a lot of roster moves yesterday, including sending out Casey Sadler (yes, the 40-man complicates things, but I’m thinking if Tepera were seriously hurt, he would’ve hit the IL yesterday)). Instead, I hope Ross was just holding firm on giving Tepera at least two days rest. That’s fine.
What about Kimbrel? I’ll probably get blasted for even suggesting him, but is he really a worse option for the 8th than Dan Winkler if you know you have limited options? Feels about parallel to me, at worst (Winkler has a 21.3% BB rate this year for crying out loud!). Makes me wonder if, with Kimbrel, he’s being held out for a few days to work on mechanical issues again after his loss of control on Saturday. The Cubs have held him out like that before.
That would mean the only other guy in the bullpen is Duane Underwood, Jr., and although he’s been racking up the Ks lately, he’s pitched exclusively in low-leverage situations. I can understand, if the choices for the 8th were Winkler or Underwood, Ross going with Winkler. That still doesn’t quite explain why Wick didn’t just start that inning, but we’re getting closer to understanding everything, at least.
Shouts, by the way, to the new guy, Josh Osich. Ross deployed him in a match-up capacity in the 9th, but in a situation where he was going to have to face at least one righty with a runner in scoring position. Then Osich took the ball to start the 10th, when it’s possible all Ross had left in his bullpen were Jeffress and Underwood.
Ultimately, all the relievers did great work, even in some odd spots, with the exception of a really bad pitch from Winkler.