CHICAGO – It seems $184 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
With his team one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, Cubs manager Joe Maddon sent high-priced outfielder Jason Heyward to the bench for Game 6, starting 22-year-old rookie Albert Almora Jr. in right field against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
“Kershaw’s pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don’t feel like we’re losing anything on defense,” Maddon said. “I know Jason’s a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder too.”
Heyward has struggled all month, but unlike teammates Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, there’s been no sign of him coming out of it. Heyward is 2-for-28 (.071) with a double and a triple in nine games (seven starts), his .312 OPS ranking lower than every other Cubs regular – and even four of Chicago’s pitchers.
With Jason Heyward showing no signs of busting out of his slump, Joe Maddon benches him for Game 6.
(Harry How/Getty Images)
Over his past four games, Heyward is 0-for-13 with five strikeouts and no walks, his lone time on base coming in Game 5 when he was hit by a pitch.
His numbers against lefthanders have been even worse, making for an easy decision for Maddon.
Heyward is not only 0-12 with seven strikeouts lifetime against Kershaw, but he posted a .207 average, .586 OPS and only six extra-base hits in 161 plate appearances against southpaws this season.
Albert Almora Jr. (l.), seen here with Dexter Fowler celebrating after Game 5 of the NLCS, gets the start.
(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Of the 39 players in the National League with at least 150 plate appearances against lefties this season, Heyward’s .207 average ranked last, while his .586 OPS was ahead of only San Francisco center fielder Denard Span.
Maddon previously sat Heyward in Game 3 of the NLDS against Giants lefty ace Madison Bumgarner, then again in Game 3 of this series against Dodgers lefthander Rich Hill.
Just as Joe Girardi faced a difficult dilemma last October when he benched Jacoby Ellsbury and his $153 million contract in the AL wild card game against Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Maddon has had to deal with the optics of sitting his $184 million man in some of the Cubs’ most important games.
Clayton Kershaw takes the mound to try and keep the Dodgers alive in the NLCS.
(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
“It’s never easy,” Maddon said. “Just like last time, I texted him in advance, which we normally do. So I’m certain that he’s not very happy with the whole thing; I wouldn’t be if I was him either. But moving forward, (Kershaw) is so impressively good against left-handers. If we didn’t have the options that we do, I couldn’t do it. But under the circumstances that we can, I think Albert gives us another opportunity there offensively while not hurting ourselves on defense.”
Almora hit .277 with a .763 OPS, three home runs and 14 RBI in 47 games this season, starting 22 of them. He’s appeared in five postseason games off the bench, going 0-for-6 in the first two rounds.
The addition of Almora to the lineup gave the Cubs five players age 24 or younger in the starting lineup – Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Russell and Almora – including four straight hitters from No. 5-8 in the batting order.
“The youth, you look from Baez to Contreras Russell to Almora; that could be somebody’s Triple-A team there just based on experience and age,” Maddon said. “I’m very proud of the fact that they’re as good as they are. That’s a testament to scouting and development as well as the person, the motor, the heart, the mind of all these kids.
“You have to have a lot of confidence and faith in the group, and we do. They’re out there, and they’re playing – and I feel actually really good about it.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News