The Chicago Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman because he’s a flamethrower.

In the 2016 postseason, he’s ignited a disconcerting number of fires.

Yes, Chapman can melt the radar gun with his triple-digit heater, and he’s impersonated his unhittable self in stretches.

The recent numbers, however, paint a less flattering picture.

In 6.1 playoff innings with the Cubs, Chapman has allowed six hits, three walks and three earned runs and has converted only three of five save opportunities.

Chicago is up 3-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, so it’s not as if Chapman is destined to become a footnote in the franchise’s futile October saga.

Still, this is a troubling development for the Cubs, who acquired Chapman as a rental from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline with the sole purpose of shoring up the back end of their bullpen.

They wanted a stopper, no hand-wringing added.

So far, it’s been hit-and-miss.

Take Game 1 of the NLCS. Chapman yielded a two-run single to Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. It tied the game.

Granted, Chapman entered in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, no outs and the Cubs clinging to a 3-1 lead. He got two-thirds of the way to his destination, fanning Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig. 

Gonzalez, however, enjoyed the last laugh.

“We talk about baseball, you know he’s got the best fastball in the game,” Gonzalez said afterward, per Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald. “But you know, you just throw fastballs. It’s going to get hit. Doesn’t mean it’s going to get hit all the time, but eventually it’s going to get hit.” 

Gonzalez is a reputable swinger. And the Cubs went on to win that game, 8-4.

Chapman, however, has coughed up other key knocks this October, including this one in Game 3 of the division series against the San Francisco Giants to implausible autumn hero Conor Gillaspie:

Chapman can make hitters look like they’re swinging a wet noodle blindfolded underwater. He’s struck out 15.2 hitters per nine innings in his career, if that does anything for you.

But while the Cleveland Indians‘ Andrew Miller has been the Platonic Ideal of a no-doubt fireman since the conclusion of Game 162, the Cubs closer has been mercurial.

That’s never a word you want associated with any postseason player, especially a reliever.

Whenever we analyze playoff results, we tread knee-deep into the small-sample swamp. There’s your caveat.

Chapman’s issue appears to be getting ahead in the count, as’s Sam Miller outlined:

When Chapman is ahead in a count and he throws a pitch down the middle, batters’ isolated power—slugging percentage minus batting average—is .036; when batters are ahead, it’s .300. When he’s ahead and he throws a pitch down the middle, batters hit .270 on balls in play; when he’s behind, it’s .444. His home run rate goes up by a factor of four. …

The difference is that when he’s behind in counts, he throws fastballs 93 percent of the time, which might as well be 100 percent of the time for a batter trying to guess what’s coming. Batters can ignore his slider and sit on the heater, take a big swing and connect enough to do damage.

The thing, then, is for Chapman to throw an effective slider and to get batters behind. When he does that, he’s a baseball wizard sent from the future.

When he doesn’t, he learns that MLB hittersincluding the Gillaspies of the worldcan punish even the most blinding fastballs.

It doesn’t help that Chapman’s most recent hiccup came in Thursday’s Game 5 against Los Angeles, as he allowed two hits, a walk and two runs. The Cubs once again won 8-4, but Chapman’s struggles were magnified.

The Cubbies are headed home for Game 6 on Saturday and Game 7 on Sunday if necessary. They’ll lean on Kyle Hendricks and, maybe, Jake Arrieta. They’ll surely depend on their young, versatile lineup.

This curse can’t be busted by any single player.

Chapman, however, will matter. He’s a southpaw, and L.A. was the worst offense against left-handers in the regular season.

More than that, he’s the man they summon when the game—and possibly the whole kit and caboodle—hangs in the balance.

There’s also no immediate heir apparent.

Righties Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon sport identical 4.91 postseason ERAs, and overall Chicago’s bullpen owns the seventh-highest ERA (3.71) of the 10 postseason qualifiers. 

If he keeps nudging his velocity into the mesosphere and harnesses his slider, he could get back to being quasi-unhittable. In fact, we’ll bank on that, because stuff like Chapman’s doesn’t come around often.

For the title-starved Cubs, however, the risk of more fires is real.

Can you feel the heat? Here’s betting Chapman can.


All statistics current as of Friday and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on