Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Who can win muddled AL wild card race?

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MLB Power Rankings: Who can win muddled AL wild card race?

Entering Monday, eight teams were within six games of the American League's final wild card spot. Texas currently is in position to face the AL East runner-up -- be it Toronto or New York -- though with so many teams bunched together, all it could take is one late-season hot streak for a muddled wild card race to be cleared up.

With that comes another week of MLB Power Rankings from CSNChicago.com's Tony Andracki and JJ Stankevitz. Stay with us every Monday from here through October for a fresh set of rankings.

Stay tuned for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

They could insert a pair of senior citizens in as injury replacements and still somehow play .600+ baseball. Unreal.

2   2

Greg Holland looks mortal (3.55 ERA, 5.45 BB/9), so what would it take for Wade Davis to be their playoff closer?

3 3

In such a tough position where even a mediocre week at any time could have them looking up at Cubs in wild card race instead of gunning for the division.

4   4

You could make the case that they're the most exciting team in baseball, but will they be able to rise above their latest injuries?

5 7

Josh Donaldson: 34 HR, 100 RBI, 7.2 WAR. He's the AL MVP if the season ended today.

6 10

An impressive sweep of the Dodgers over the weekend was bookended by Mike Fiers' no-hitter and Jason Castro's walk-off home run.

7 6

The geriatric trio of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran has combined for 70 home runs.

8 9

David Wright returning should be a boost, even if he doesn't play. His presence and clubhouse influence has to give them a shot in the arm.

9 5

Clinging to a 1.5 game lead on the Giants in the NL West.

10 8

Suddenly six games back in the wild card and it looks like their best bet into the playoffs is through the division.

11 12

Enter the week leading the race for the AL's No. 2 wild card spot, but do they have the pitching to hang on to it?

12 17

Could've been left for dead in the wild card race before putting together an impressive four-game sweep of Baltimore at Camden Yards.

13 15

Don't look now, but the Diamondbacks are coming up on the Giants and Nationals in the NL wild card race.

14 11

The only team in the race for the AL's second wild card spot with a positive run differential, but that didn't stop them from blowing that disastrous four-game series against the Twins.

15 15

At least Anthony Rendon is starting to hit, but is it too late?

16 13

They don't have a single pitcher with two or more fWAR. That's not good.

17 14

They come across as a pretty mediocre side, but could have good enough pitching to make things interesting in September.

18 20

The offense turned on the jets and coasted to a five-game winning streak before running into the Cardinals' brick wall Sunday.

19 21

Their defense has improved, but it looks like too little, too late.

20 19

Six games under .500, five and a half games out of a playoff spot. Yep, that's the AL wild card race.

21 18

Miguel Cabrera has been incredible, albeit in only 88 games: .367/.472/.601.

22 22 Nelson Cruz is on pace to set a career high in home runs (has 37, career best is 40) and it's done nothing to help Seattle carve out a spot in the playoff race.
23 24

There are a lot of aging, expensive players here, but they've seen encouraging seasons from Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt, at least.

24 27

"It's not that hard, tell him Wash."

25 26

Khris Davis is mashing the ball again, but it's just too little, way too late.

26 25

Considering they're in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, you could make the case they should be No. 30 on this list, but then again, so could any of these bottom five teams (all NL).

27 23

As if they already didn't know they were out of it, seven-game losing streak kicks them while they're down.

28 29

Fast becoming one of the most disappointing seasons in Marlins history.

29 28

They now have the worst record in baseball by percentage.

30 30

It's going to take some time to get used to seeing the Phillies without Chase Utley.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”