How about that 2016 World Series? Game 7 will go down as one of the greatest endings in baseball history. That status seems guaranteed only a few hours removed from the fact. Of course, most people will remember the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year curse as the key takeaway from this Series, and rightfully so. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit to take out the Indians only adds to that legend.
Yet despite the dramatic home runs and brilliant plays in the field, the 2016 World Series featured a remarkable number of mistakes. We saw players getting picked off first base in key spots; fielders unable to make routine catches and throws; and dubious decisions by one of the game’s best managers.
All things considered, the Indians and Cubs played a sloppy (if memorable) Game 7. In fact, these teams played a sloppy Game 6 as well. Here are the three biggest blunders of the 2016 World Series.
1. Lester’s Game 7 wild pitch
Prior to Game 7, MLB experts everywhere discussed the availability of Jon Lester, the Cubs ace who previously made one relief appearance in his life (in 2007). While most agreed Lester would need to start an inning avoid any issues with baserunners, the assumption was the southpaw would be fine coming out of the bullpen. Yet Chicago’s Joe Maddon made the call to Lester with a 5-1 lead following a two-out walk by Kyle Hendricks.
Despite the fact Hendricks was cruising at that point (bottom fifth, 63 pitches thrown), Maddon pulled his starter and brought in Lester. An infield single by Jason Kipnis and error by catcher David Ross dimmed Chicago’s prospects a bit, putting runners on second and third. Then Lester uncorked a wild pitch. Two runs scored, cutting the Cubs’ advantage in half (5-3). With four innings to play, the combination of mistakes by Ross and Lester got the Indians right back in the ballgame.
2. Naquin’s Game 6 cross-up
Cleveland returned home with a 3-2 lead in the Series and needed to take just one of the final two games to win a title. The pitching matchup in Game 6 favored Chicago with Jake Arrieta on the hill facing Josh Tomlin. In the bottom of the first, things took a decisive turn when Indians outfielders misplayed a catchable ball in right-center, allowing two runs to score and giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead before Cleveland got to hit.
Tyler Naquin, playing center that night, deserved the blame for a mistake that staked Chicago to a fat lead with a tough pitcher on the mound for the opposition. What followed — including a grand slam by Addison Russell that broke the game open in the third — sealed the game for the Cubs, but no other event added more win probability (15%) than the misplayed double in the first. If Naquin makes the catch, the game looks entirely different.
3. Baez’s failed bunt
If there was one player getting hyped above all others early in the 2016 postseason, it was Cubs second baseman Javier Baez. The dynamic 23-year-old player hit .375 in the NLDS and won NLCS MVP for his defensive wizardry and hot bat (.318, 5 RBI) in the second round. In the World Series, Baez came back to earth, hitting .167 with 13 SO in 30 AB plus four errors in the field.
His worst play was one of the biggest blunders in World Series history, though it wasn’t his fault. With the game tied 6-6 in the top of the ninth, Maddon called on Baez to bunt home Jason Heyward from third base with a full count. He fouled it off, thereby striking out and stranding the go-ahead run. Had the Cubs lost, it would have gone down as one of the worst managerial moves the game has ever seen (it probably is, regardless). Why wasn’t he trying to drive the ball with a 3-2 count?
According to the Baseball Reference Win Probability Added (WPA) index, Baez’s failed bunt (-19% WPA) was only outdone by the game-tying, two-run homer Aroldis Chapman surrendered to Rajai Davis in the eighth. Nonetheless, the Cubs shrugged off the bunt attempt and scored two in top of the 10th, skating off with a curse-breaking, 8-7 win. If they hadn’t, we’d be talking about curses and chokes again.
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Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.