Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, Astros solidifying playoff spots

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MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, Astros solidifying playoff spots

The Cubs and Astros are probably the top two stories in the MLB pennant race this season, but with five weeks still to play, neither has a stranglehold on a playoff spot. The Astros are still trying to hold off a number of challengers, including the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. Meanwhile, the Cubs rose from the ashes of a brutal West Coast trip with a no-hitter and a bunch of onesies

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 | Week 19

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Jason Heyward (.792 OPS, 20 SBs) is suddenly turning into a player they'd love to lock up long-term.

2   2

The AL’s best team should get arguably its best player back on Tuesday.

3 3

They're 29 games over .500, 7 better than the NL West leader and 7.5 better than the NL East leader, yet will have to win a wild card game to even get into the main postseason bracket.

4   5

Baseball’s must fun team (seriously, go watch highlights from Saturday’s game against Detroit) enters the week 1.5 games up on the Yankees in the AL East. 

5 4

Jake Arrieta: NL Cy Young?

6 7

This is one of those years where the first-place wild card team doesn’t deserve to play a one-game playoff — Yankees enter the week four up on Texas. 

7 9

What's so incredible about Clayton Kershaw is, even after four straight years of leading the NL in ERA and WHIP, he's having an even better year this season.

8 6

Getting George Springer (.264/.365/.457, 2.5 WAR) back for the stretch run should help them hold off Texas in the AL West.

9 8

What was all that talk about the lack of offense? They look pretty solid now with Wright back, Cespedes crushing the ball and that doesn't even count Lucas Duda, who's on the DL.

10 10

Interesting take: Did the Cubs knock the Giants out of the wild card race before the season even started?

11 11

Derek Holland served a reminder of how good he can be when healthy on Sunday, throwing an 11-strikeout, three-hit shutout against Baltimore. 

12 12

Have they weathered the storm? Just took a series from Houston over the weekend and get a shot at beating up on the White Sox this week. 

13 15

Anthony Rendon getting hot (.419/.500/.645 last 8 gms) could be just what this team needs to make a run.

14 19

Lurking only five games out of a wild card spot after sweeping the Angels by a combined score of 20-6 over the weekend. 

15 16

At 65-65, they realistically need to go 20-10 down the stretch to remain in the AL playoff picture. 

16 17

Only division leaders Kansas City and Houston have allowed fewer runs in the AL, but they’ve scored the fewest runs (483) of anyone in the junior circuit. 

17 18

Matt Kemp in the 2nd half: .301/.358/.524 (.882 OPS) with 8 HR, 33 RBI.

18 13

Paul Goldschmidt has a very human-like .887 OPS in the 2nd half. What a bust.

19 14

It’s looking more and more like their good run differential won’t matter. 

20 23

Former White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza has been solid for them, hitting .292/.347/.484 in 60 games.

21 20

Jeff Samardzija finished August with an 8.82 ERA. 

22 22 Would’ve taken three of four from the White Sox if Brad Miller was able to throw to first base. 
23 21

Even with Justin Verlander rounding into form, they have the highest ERA of any staff in the AL (4.61).

24 24

Billy Butler looks like a complete offseason misfire, hitting .238/.311/.358 with nine home runs and -1.2 WAR. 

25 25

Jonathan Lucroy is finally healthy an dputting up an .855 OPS in August.

26 26

It's not even September yet and Joey Votto already has 112 walks.

27 29

Let's check in with Jose Reyes on the Rockies: .257 AVG, .692 OPS, 5 SB in 9 attempts, $22 million salary.

28 27

5-game losing streak pits them in bottom 3 in our rankings.

29 28

Giancarlo's coming back!!

30 30

Odubel Herrera is hitting .348 with an .860 OPS in the 2nd half. Great progress for the 23-year-old.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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