Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, White Sox making major gains

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MLB Power Rankings: Cubs, White Sox making major gains

Finally, we have some stabilization at the top as the Cardinals, Dodgers and Royals hold the Nos. 1-3 spots for the second consecutive week. But as the Blue Jays and Marlins sink, the Cubs and White Sox are starting to make some gains after strong showings last week.

With that comes another week of MLB Power Rankings from CSNChicago.com's Tony Andracki and JJ Stankevitz. 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

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Matt Carpenter is on pace for 70 doubles, four triples and 31 homers. What was that about extreme exhaustion?

2   2

They have the highest run differential in the majors and that's with Clayton Kershaw's 4.24 ERA and Yasiel Puig missing more than 20 games.

3   3

Eric Hosmer is hitting ..324/.402/.554 with seven home runs and is still only 25.

4   4

Their six-game lead on the second-place Angels enters the week as the largest in baseball.

5 7

Bryce Harper is on another planet right now. He already has 3.5 bWAR and he leads the league in plate appearances, runs, homers, RBI, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+ and total bases.

6   8

Victor Martinez is owed $68 million over the next four years and has been worth -0.8 WAR so far, tied for third-worst among qualified players.

7 14

Six-game winning streak helps prove to them and the rest of the baseball world that the hot start isn't a fluke: The Cubs are here to stay.

8 6

It's not often a team is swept in a four-game series to the Cubs and yet remains in the Top 10. In fact, that's never happened in CSNChicago.com MLB Power Rankings history.

9 4

While A-Rod's renaissance gets the attention, Jacoby Ellsbury has a .411 OBP and 14 stolen bases after a generally average offensive season in 2014.

10   21

If Brandon Belt keeps hitting like this, the Giants are going to be in real good shape. They need him to finally have a breakout season.

11   12

Get to know Logan Forsythe, a former utilityman with a .670 career OPS, who's hitting .300/.370/.492 through 38 games entering the week.

12   15

Enter the week at 21-17 despite ranking in the bottom 10 in offensive and pitching WAR.

13 18

After an awful April, Erick Aybar is having a positive regression to the mean with a .351/.373/.404 May slash line.

14 10

Wil Myers was a below-average player last year with wrist injuries, so his current wrist issue is awfully concerning given his hot start atop the Padres lineup.

15 11

Still below .500, but they have the 5th best run differential in the NL while Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison are starting to regain their form.

16 24

Winners of five in a row and four series in a row entering a seven-game homestand vs. Cleveland and Minnesota this week.

17 19

Need Robinson Cano to be better than his rough .647 OPS.

18 23

After Shelby Miller's near no-no, is it safe to say yet that the Braves won the Jason Heyward trade? They still have Miller under control for a few more years and Heyward is struggling in STL and becomes a free agent in five months.

19 22

They spent all that money on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and pitching still looks like it could be their Achilles' heel.

20   17

Chris Davis has eight home runs in 38 games but his .290 OBP isn't pretty.

21 20

Moving Billy Hamilton to 8th in the order doesn't really do much. Maybe they should pull a Maddon and hit the pitcher 8th and Hamilton 9th?

22 27 Delino Deshields Jr. has a .397 OBP. Feel old yet?
23 9

Entered the week losers of five in a row, though that ended Monday afternoon with a 10-6 win over the Angels.

24 16

How does a 15-21 team have a +4 run differential?

25 25

Corey Kluber's 18 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher since...wait for it...Ben Sheets in 2004.

26 30

Even with a 5-game winning streak, they're still only 16-23 with a -54 run differential.

27 13

Poor Giancarlo Stanton. Sure, he's getting paid, but dude is stuck in the worst situation possible. Marlins run their franchise like a 6-year-old boy playing with those little plastic army guys while making explosion noises with their mouths every three seconds.

28 29

Troy Tulowitzki still has only 2 walks on the season, but Carlos Gonzalez looks to be heating up a bit.

29 26

Were swept by the White Sox at home for the first time since 1997 over the weekend.

30 28

Carlos Gomez the latest Brewer to be plunked in the heard. They're drawing some bad luck in that regard this year.

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

As the Cubs peruse over their list of managerial candidates, one name reportedly made a strong impression following his interview with the team.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, Astros bench coach Joe Espada left the Cubs front office “exceptionally impressed” following his interview on Monday.

Espada, 44, has spent the last two seasons as Astros bench coach following three seasons as Yankees third base coach. He is one of MLB’s more sought after managerial candidates this winter and one of three known external candidates for the Cubs’ opening, along with Joe Girardi and Gabe Kapler.

Former Cubs catcher and current front office assistant David Ross has been the presumed front runner for the Cubs' opening. But based on Kaplan’s report, Espada clearly has given Epstein and Co. something to think about, which makes sense, considering Espada is coming from an innovative Astros organization.

Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference that there’s no timeline for the Cubs’ managerial search. However, MLB prefers teams to not make big announcements during the World Series, which kicks off on Oct. 22. Thus, the Cubs may not make an announcement for little while longer, though this is purely speculation.

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The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

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AP

The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

If anybody thought the Cubs' 2019 season was a roller coaster, it was nothing compared to what Brad Wieck has gone through this year.

Wieck — the 6-foot-9 left-handed reliever — went from a cancer diagnosis to a Padres cast-off and wound up finishing the year carving through the heart of the Cardinals order in the eighth inning of a must-win game in late-September for the Cubs.

Wieck began 2019 with a testicular cancer diagnosis in January and underwent surgery shortly after. That left him playing catch-up all spring training, unable to lift, run or throw off a mound for a month after the surgery. He only ended up facing live hitters twice before the regular season started and was never able to recover with the Padres, putting up a 5.71 ERA in 34.2 MLB innings. 

Then the Cubs came calling.

While the rest of Cubdom was understandably occupied on Trade Deadline Day celebrating the Nick Castellanos move, Theo Epstein's front office made a smaller move with the San Diego Padres. And Wieck wasn't even the central focus of that trade, as more of the emphasis was on the departure of Carl Edwards Jr. — a polarizing figure in the Cubs bullpen the last few seasons, including throughout the 2016 World Series run.

Yet Epstein's front office didn't treat Wieck like a throw-in. From Day 1 with the organization, the Cubs handled the southpaw more like a first-round draft pick.

Right after the trade, Wieck was immediately assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he made a pair of appearances against the Tacoma Rainiers. From there, he was invited to Chicago to meet with the Cubs front office and throw a bullpen off the Wrigley Field mound.

"So I got here and they had a whole presentation of what my current curveball looked like and what they would like the shape of it to look like and so we just started messing around with grip," Wieck said. "I went to a spike curveball grip and we got in the lab and we started throwing it more and we came up with consistent break of what we thought was gonna be a better break than the curveball that I had.

"Just trial and error, honestly. We just looked at Rapsodo stuff and saw what spin efficiency is doing and spin rate and trying to get my curveball spin to replicate the exact opposite of my fastball. That's what our goal was."

That led to a trip to the "Pitch Lab" in Arizona where Wieck worked with Josh Zeid, the Cubs' pitching analyst, to continue to mess around with the new curveball grip and add a new, consistent weapon to his arsenal. 

If the term "spike curveball" sounds familiar, it should. It's become the unofficial pitch of the Cubs (you know, if organizations defined themselves by just one pitch). Rowan Wick — Wieck's former roommate in the Padres system — broke out as a trusted big-league reliever in large part because of the emergence of his spike curve. Craig Kimbrel throws one and also taught the pitch to Yu Darvish, who added it to the plethora of options already at his disposal. 

Wieck's time in Arizona was about getting comfortable with the new pitch and not worrying about facing hitters or pitching in a game. After a couple weeks in the desert, the Cubs threw him back out on the mound in Iowa, where he made four appearances before getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September. 

Right off the bat, we got a look at that spike curve and there is no doubt it can play at Wrigley Field, especially when the shadows roll in:

Just like that, a new weapon was born and Wieck developed more confidence in that reshaped curveball.

"I like that they're forcing me to throw it more because I've been a fastball-heavy pitcher my whole life," Wieck said. "I trust my fastball with my life. To have a catcher get back there and make you throw it, that's really good."

The Cubs' confidence in Wieck also grew as the month went on. He emerged alongside his buddy Wick as vital pieces of the late-season bullpen while Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler dealt with injuries. It got to the point where Joe Maddon kept Wieck in to face the Cardinals' big boppers (Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — both right-handed hitters) with a 1-run lead in the eighth inning on that final homestand. We all know how that game ended (Kimbrel served up homers on back-to-back pitches for another gut-wrenching Cubs loss), but Wieck did his job and proved he's far more than just a lefty specialist.

This fall was the first time Wieck had been a part of a playoff push and that outing against the Cardinals was only the 46th MLB appearance of his young career. Moving into 2020, the 28-year-old southpaw looks to be one of only a few arms penciled into the Cubs bullpen. 

The Cubs had their eyes on Wieck for a while before they were able to trade for him and they don't plan on rolling out a big presentation for each acquisition or ask every new arm to start throwing a brand new pitch or completely remake one of their existing pitches. This was a unique situation, but it's one that already paid dividends in a short period of time and could help set up the bullpen for the future. 

It's also another indicator that the "Pitch Lab" can work, as Wieck joins Wick and Kyle Ryan as products of the Cubs' new model they hope to fine-tune and grow. Epstein will hire a director of pitching for the organization this winter and the Cubs are hoping to change the narrative surrounding their shocking lack of pitching development under this front office. 

In Wieck's case, it was a group effort from the Cubs — the front office, research and development department, big-league coaching staff (led by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), the pitching analytics unit based in Arizona and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara all teamed up to make it happen for the tall lefty in only a month's time.

It's a model the organization will attempt to duplicate moving forward, beginning this winter.