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Reds 4, Cubs 2: A question for Joe Maddon

The way this game ended was mystifying.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t think there’s been a game in Joe Maddon’s nearly three-year tenure as Cubs manager where I thought one specific decision by Joe might have cost the Cubs the game.

Until Thursday night. So here’s my question:

Joe, why wasn’t Albert Almora Jr. in center field in the bottom of the eighth inning with a one-run lead?

I wasn’t the only one thinking that — he was asked by beat writers after the game — and here’s Joe’s answer:

Well. First of all, he still could have had the same lefthanded hitters (Jon Jay and Alex Avila, both of whom pinch-hit) lined up to face Iglesias in the ninth inning. (A double switch might have been in order, as Ian Happ had just batted in the top of the eighth, but that wouldn’t have been a necessity.)

Second, Kyle Schwarber wasn’t removed from the game, he was still in left field, and not anywhere near the play in question, so I don’t understand Joe’s comment about Schwarber.

And lastly, Almora is one of the best center fielders in baseball, while Happ is still learning the position. I’m going to disagree with Joe and say that Almora would have run Jose Peraza’s ball down. That would have ended the Reds’ eighth with no runs scoring, the Cubs still up 2-1, and maybe they win the game instead of suffering a 4-2 defeat that snapped their five-game winning streak.

Here’s video of the play. You make the call. Would Almora have caught that ball?

All of this ruined another fine outing from Jake Arrieta. He retired the first 10 Reds, including five by strikeout, before a Kris Bryant error put Zack Cozart on second base, where he scored to tie the game on a single by Joey Votto.

The Cubs had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on Happ’s 19th homer of the season:

There the game stayed until the sixth, when Javier Baez turned that inning into a one-man show. First, he singled in the lead run:

Then, after Cozart had singled and Votto doubled, Javy threw Cozart out at the plate:

The throw from Schwarber was perfect, and Javy’s relay excellent, and also give credit to Rene Rivera for an excellent swipe tag.

After Jake recorded the second out, Scooter Gennett was given an intentional pass. Unfortunately, Jake then walked Eugenio Suarez to load the bases, and that ended Jake’s night. For Jake, this start (no earned runs allowed in 5⅔ innings) continued this excellent run:

Fortunately, Brian Duensing got out of the inning with a ground ball, and Carl Edwards Jr. threw a 1-2-3 seventh with a pair of strikeouts.

Pedro Strop then entered for the eighth, and retired the first two hitters — Cozart and Votto, though not without some defensive help from Jason Heyward:

So Strop got the two best hitters in the Reds lineup, then gave up hits to Adam Duvall and Gennett, who doubled. With runners on second and third, Suarez was intentionally passed, bringing up Peraza, and now we’re back where I started this recap.

The Cubs didn’t have too many chances to extend the lead, though they did leave RISP in the fifth and seventh innings. Then in the ninth, trailing by two, Jay singled with one out. Two runs down, I wouldn’t have tried to steal second, but Jay did, and was thrown out. Here’s why he did that:

I still wouldn’t have done it; I suppose Jay wanted to try to stay out of a possible double-play ball from the next hitter, Avila. It didn’t take too long after Jay was thrown out for Avila to be called out on strikes to end the game. And again, though Happ says he didn’t miss the ball by much, I think Almora runs that one down.

Frustrating, I know. The Cubs probably should have won this game. Fortunately for them, the Cardinals and Pirates both also lost Thursday night, so the Cubs’ lead over those two remains at 4½ and eight games, respectively. The Brewers were idle, so the Cubs’ lead over second-place Milwaukee dropped to three games, with one more game checked off the schedule. The Brewers will travel to Dodger Stadium this weekend for a three-game set against the Dodgers while the Cubs are in Philadelphia, so there’s a good chance for the Cubs to extend their division lead. The Pirates are at Cincinnati and the Cardinals host the Rays this weekend.

Friday’s series opener in Philadelphia features Jose Quintana starting for the Cubs and Jerad Eickhoff for the Phillies.


Should Albert Almora Jr. have replaced Ian Happ in center field in the eighth inning Thursday night?

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