An important decision faced Joe Maddon in the fifth inning of the Cubs' 7-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field: Leave Kyle Hendricks in to hit, or pull him for a pinch hitter?
The situation was far more complicated than that description would present, though. The Cubs were losing 1-0 but hadn't looked threatening against Pirates starter Ivan Nova, who had scattered three singles and a walk to that point. Addison Russell led off the fifth with a single, and Chris Gimenez reached on an error when shortstop Jordy Mercer bobbled a sure-fire double play ball.
Meanwhile, Hendricks had thrown 86 pitches and admitted after the game he was struggling to be consistent with his mechanics. The Pirates had their Nos. 2-4 hitters looming in the top of the sixth, all of whom hit left-handed (Austin Meadows, Corey Dickerson and Colin Moran). Lefty reliever Brian Duensing had held left-handed hitters to a .222/.326/.306 slash line in 44 plate appearances this year.
And Tommy La Stella was there on the bench with 12 hits, five walks and seven RBIs, and hadn't hit into a double play, in 36 pinch-hit plate appearances this year.
So for Maddon, all that information pointed to one decision: Pull Hendricks, insert La Stella and try to generate some offense while leaning on a solid bullpen for the final four innings of the game.
"You gotta look at the whole thing," Maddon said. "We weren't scoring a whole lot of runs so you gotta try to get them whenever you can. La Stella hitting, top of the order coming up, I'll take my chances."
Maddon's decision, though, backfired in spectacular fashion. La Stella hit into a double play and Javier Baez struck out to put a swift end to the inning. Duensing came in and promptly gave up two hits and two walks, then was pulled for Luke Farrell, who allowed a three-run triple to Gregory Polanco (who entered Sunday barely hitting above the Mendoza Line).
All told, the Pirates gouged the Cubs for five runs in the sixth inning, putting the game out of reach on a miserably chilly and foggy afternoon on Clark and Addison.
To Hendricks' credit, he wasn't miffed at the situation and was understanding and accepting of Maddon's reasoning.
"That's part of the game right there," Hendricks saiod. "Got a chance to get on the board and you gotta take it. Unfortunately it didn't work out but nine times out of 10 with Tommy that's going to work. You gotta play the percentages there."
Maddon didn't shy away from presenting his reasoning after the game, and he probably would've made things worse had he publicly second-guessed himself (or Duensing, or La Stella, or Hendricks, etc.). So while his move backfired, and was the catalyst for a dour six-run loss, it was hardly the end of the world for a team that's 12 games over .500 with 100 more left in the regular season.
"It was all set up," Maddon said. "You got the best pinch hitter in the league coming up and he just happens to hit into a double play, which is going to happen on occasion. But Kyle did hit job, everything was right there. We just did not get the hit."