CLEVELAND — October rewards boldness, and in this postseason, it has been proven over and over again. Terry Francona’s deft use of his bullpen helped seize the American League pennant for his Indians while Dave Roberts aggressive use of his relievers pushed the Dodgers to the league championship series.
Now, in the World Series, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has shown that he is not averse to making difficult decisions. He proved it again before Game 2 against the Indians on Wednesday night, when he benched Jason Heyward for the third straight game in the playoffs.
Faced with their most important games of the season, it appears that the Cubs are prepared to turn Heyward into little more than a highly-compensated spectator, with his eight-year $184-million deal this winter providing little cover for his lack of production.
The benching follows a season in which the Cubs’ winter splash has come under intense scrutiny. Heyward’s primary value has been his defense in rightfield, not a premium position. But he has been woeful at the plate, hitting just .230/.306/.325 in 142 games. In 10 playoff games, Heyward has hit rock bottom, batting just .071/.133/.179.
“You always got to be a professional, root your teammates on, understand you don’t make the lineup, do what you can whenever you get the chance to do something,” Heyward told reporters before Game 1. “Whether it’s in the game or not in the game.”
In the postseason, Maddon has shielded the lefty-hitting Heyward from tough lefthanded pitching, sitting him against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill.
But the Indians have started two righties in the World Series — Corey Kluber in Game 1 and Trevor Bauer in Game 2 — and Maddon has gone elsewhere in rightfield. After Chris Coghlan started in rightfield on Tuesday night, Jorge Soler took the spot on Wednesday. Heyward entered Game 2 in the fifth as a pinch runner for Soler and stayed in the game in rightfield.
Maddon cited Bauer’s reverse splits. Though he is righthanded, Bauer has fared better against lefties (.690 OPS) than he has righties (.732).
“The thing with reverse split guys is that if you think about it, a righty throwing to a lefthanded hitter, they’re throwing the ball to the weak part of the bat all the time,” Maddon said. “They’re getting on guys’ hands with the cutter, elevated fastball, breaking ball in the dirt. With the righthanded hitter, the reverse guys, have a tendency to throw the ball to the barrel.”
Neither Coghlan nor Soler are known for defense, and the Cubs have placed an emphasis on glovework. But the Cubs also have a strong defender in Albert Almora Jr., who has also started games over Heyward in the postseason. Almora is a rookie.
Said Maddon: “If you have the option between a righty and a lefty, if you’re going to do that platoon thing, I prefer playing the righthander against this pitcher.”