Former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman tests positive for COVID-19

Former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman tests positive for COVID-19

Former Cub and current Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has tested positive for COVID-19, Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced Saturday.

Chapman, 32, is experiencing mild symptoms, Boone said. He will not be with the team for the foreseeable future.

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Chapman, who helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series, is the third known Yankee to test positive for the coronavirus. Other Yankees known to test positive are former Cubs second baseman D.J. Lemahieu and pitcher Luis Cessa.

No Cubs players have tested positive since MLB's intake and monitoring process began.

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What Joe Maddon believes was his biggest mistake in 2016 World Series

What Joe Maddon believes was his biggest mistake in 2016 World Series

Joe Maddon was scrutinized for how he managed Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, but his biggest mistake (from his perspective) might not be what Cubs fans expect.

In a Tuesday live stream with sportscaster Bob Costas, Maddon admitted he should not have had closer Aroldis Chapman pitch the ninth inning of Game 6, a 9-3 Cubs victory.

Maddon called on Chapman with two outs in the seventh inning of Game 6. The Cubs led the Indians 7-2, though Cleveland had two runners on with two outs when shortstop Francisco Lindor stepped up to bat.

Lindor grounded out to end the threat and Chapman only needed three batters to get through the eighth. The Cubs tacked on two runs in the ninth on an Anthony Rizzo home run, putting the game all but out of reach. Despite the Cubs leading 9-2, Chapman started the ninth, only to be removed after surrendering a five-pitch walk.

"I should not have sent [Chapman] back out in the ninth," Maddon told Costas in a Cameo livestream in support of the Respect 90 Foundation. "Everything happened kinda quickly. Rizz hit a homer that put us up by [seven] runs.

"I did not want to run away from a crucial moment in Game 6 and have Aroldis be in the bullpen and have us lose the game."

Chapman pitched 2 2/3 and 1 1/3 innings in Games 5 and 6 of the Fall Classic. In Game 7, he surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning to Rajai Davis, and many point to Maddon's overuse of him as the reason.

Chapman got out of the ninth inning unscathed and the Cubs went on to clinch the series after a 10th-inning rally. More than three years later, Maddon stands by how he used his closer.

"Who would you rather have in those games at any number and under any circumstance?" he said. "Even a tired Aroldis Chapman, you would prefer, I think, over a lot of other pitchers that we had at that moment.

"It’s just because [Davis] hit a home run. All of a sudden it became magnified, and I totally understand that. I promise you I would have done it the same way all over again, except for the one moment, where I would not have thrown him [five] pitches in the ninth inning. I would have just gone to the bullpen that point sooner.

"To me, that was the biggest mistake I made."

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Cubs still searching for answers with Brad Brach

Cubs still searching for answers with Brad Brach

The Cubs have some interesting roster decisions to make in the near future. 

The big-league pitching staff is potentially going to get very crowded very quickly with Tony Barnette now added into the mix, Craig Kimbrel close to making his debut and Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr. nearing returns from their respective injuries. Somehow, the Cubs will need to open up multiple spots on their pitching staff.

Fans on Twitter are quick to solve the problem by saying "DFA Brad Brach," but it's hardly that simple and also probably not the best course of action for the franchise to cut ties with the veteran reliever.

Yes, Brach has not pitched well in his first season with the Cubs, especially lately — he has given up runs in eight of his last 12 outings and now carries a 6.14 ERA and 1.84 WHIP on the season. 

But there's more than meets the eye with his numbers and both he and the Cubs feel like they're on the verge of getting things in order.

"The most frustrating part is I feel like I've had some of the best stuff I've had in the last couple years these last five weeks and have just not gotten the results," Brach said. "Unfortunately this is a results-driven game, especially in the bullpen. If you're not getting the job done, you're not gonna be out there when the game matters and that's when I love being out there. 

"[The Cubs have] been really good about coming up to me — 'your stuff's there, just one little thing here or there.' But at the end of the day, I just gotta execute it and get the outs."

Brach has given up 32 hits this season, but only 8 of those have gone for extra bases and just 1 left the yard. He's given up homers at the same rate as Aroldis Chapman and among MLB pitchers with at least 20 innings this season, only six other guys have a better HR/9 rate than Brach.

Brach also woke up Monday morning with a .397 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him, which is roughly 100 points higher than the league average this season and 107 points higher than his career average (.290). His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is right around his norm (3.73 vs. 3.69 for his career) and has the lowest strand rate of his MLB life so there's an element of bad luck here.

On the other hand, he's also giving up more hard contact and less soft contact than ever before.

After walking 15 batters in his first 12.1 innings, Brach has gotten that under control — he's doled out only 1 free pass over his last nine appearances and 7 total in 17 innings since April.

"It's been really frustrating and it's been waves of frustration," Brach said. "Early in the season, I wasn't throwing strikes, walking a ton of guys and wasn't getting hurt. Now, I'm not walking guys and getting hurt by the single in a year when home runs are dominating the game. 

"It's definitely a frustrating thing. The contact's been pretty weak. Mine was just two rocky games. I just kinda have to look at it like those were two really bad outings and move on and hopefully I can get on a roll here."

Brach has a point there — nearly half of the runs he has given up on the season (8 of 20) came in back-to-back outings against the Rockies on June 5 and June 11, where he was tagged for 4 runs each time while getting only three outs combined.

He also has a long track record of success. Since his rookie season, the 33-year-old has never posted a season ERA over 3.78. From 2012-18, Brach had a 2.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 33 saves and averaged more than a strikeout an inning while also spending most of that time as a high-leverage reliever pitching in the AL East.

However, Brach did experience an up-and-down 2018 season (4.85 ERA with the Orioles in the first half, 1.52 ERA with the Braves in the second half) and he has been thinking back to that a lot as he tries to get out of his slump with the Cubs.

"If I didn't have last year's experience, who knows where I'd be right now," Brach said. "Last year was pretty bad, too. Just couldn't get any outs. I was getting hit hard — a lot harder than I have been this year, so at least I know it can turn around."

There's still more than half the season remaining and Brach has exactly the kind of stuff, pedigree and experience to be a valuable bullpen piece for the Cubs down the stretch.

"It's kind of baffling to us from the side," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're trying to really dig into it and see if there's a thread there that we can bring to him. Because you watch him pitch from the side and the stuff is outstanding. It really is — the fastball-changeup-slider mix. 

"It's really hard to wrap your head around it. Some of it, I thought was a little bit of bad luck. Some of it has been late-count hits that he's gotta be a little bit better with 0-2, 1-2 counts. I'm trying to decipher all that. But purely from a physical perspective, he's throwing the ball great and he's not getting the results. And I think maybe then the confidence gets nicked a little bit, also. 

"That's where I'm at with him. I think he's throwing the ball wonderfully, but we gotta figure out — outside of a jam-shot, bad-luck knock every once in a while — what we can do to help him. This guy is such a wonderful team player. Everybody's behind him out there. Every one of us. We gotta figure it out because his stuff's that good."