Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Do Cardinals have a deal with the devil?

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MLB Power Rankings: Do Cardinals have a deal with the devil?

The 2015 MLB season has been fraught with disappointment - from teams and players. The San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and the White Sox will all be sitting in unenviable positions on July 1. Meanwhile, the Cardinals must be practicing some sort of witchcraft in St. Louis given how they continue to win despite injuries to so many key players.

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 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Do they have a deal with the devil? How are they still THIS good??!?

2   2

Hey, we’re down to only five Royals leading All-Star voting. One of them, though, still is Omar Infante and his .562 OPS.

3 12

Max Scherzer is on pace to allow just 47 ER in 234.1 IP. By comparison, Joe Kelly has allowed 47 ERA in 74.2 IP this season.

4   3

Falling back to earth with a 13-14 June record entering the week, but still comfortably atop the AL West.

5 5

I like this team overall, but are they really comfortable starting guys like Brett Anderson, Mike Bolsinger or Carlos Frias down the stretch or even in the playoffs?

6 4

Francisco Cervelli is tied for 5th in MLB in fWAR (1.8) in just 58 games. 

7 11

Ubaldo Jimenez has a 3.09 ERA and Chris Davis has 16 home runs. And with their career resuscitations comes the O’s in first entering the week.

8 8

Taking advantage of the Cubs' losing streak to leapfrog into the NL's final playoff spot for the time being.

9 6

Solid pitching, strong defense and an average offense have been enough to keep them in the thick of the playoff race.

10 10

Josh Donaldson for MVP, anyone? He has 4.3 WAR (4th-most) and 18 home runs (12th-most) while bringing the Blue Jays’ menacing order together awfully well.

11   9

Did well to split a four-game series in Houston after allowing 24 runs in a series loss to the lowly Phillies last week.

12 7

After beating Kershaw and Greinke and going 9 games over .500 for the first time since 2008, Cubs then go on a 5-game losing streak. Sounds about right.

13 13

Ervin Santana comes back on the Fourth of July, but will he be enough to keep this upstart side in a pennant race?

14 16

Justin Verlander is scheduled to start Tuesday, and Detroit needs him to be better than his six-run, three-homer showing in his last outing June 19 against the Yankees.

15 15

Despite having another MVP bid from Mike Trout and Albert Pujols’ 23 home runs, their position players have combined for the seventh-lowest WAR total this season.

16 17

Maybe they should just have Steven Matz play 3B on days he doesn't pitch?

17 14

The returns of Matt Harrison and Josh Hamilton look like they’re coming at the right time for a team that’s on the verge of sinking out of the playoff race.

18 18

Welington Castillo has a .901 OPS in Arizona. Hmm.

19 19

Think their recent 5-game losing streak ensures they will become sellers soon.

20   21

Can they even trade any of those guys they acquired over the winter besides JUpton? Myers has another wrist injury, Kemp has a .661 OPS, Norris is hitting .197 since May 16, Middlebrooks has a .250 OBP, Shields has a 4.24 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, Kimbrel has a 1.31 WHIP...the list goes on and on.

21 20

They won three straight series, then promptly swept out of New York by the Mets. Reds should sell, sell, sell in July.

22 25 Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, in 134 combined games, have been worth -0.7 WAR.
23 23

Robinson Cano has 0.0 WAR and 8 1/2 years left on his deal.

24 24

Even if they trade Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist (Cubs, anyone?), don’t rule them out of an AL West that could become wide open if Houston continues to slide.

25 22

Jason Kipnis' monster year is being wasted on this lagging team. Shame! Shame! Shame!

26 26

Nolan Arenado is on pace for 52 HRs and 147 RBI. And he's only 24. (But he's also on pace for only 28 BBs. Weird!)

27 28

Want to see how bad defense affects pitching? The Sox pitching staff has a 3.74 FIP but a 4.23 ERA, the largest gulf in the American League.

28 27

Without Giancarlo Stanton, will anybody watch this reality show in Miami?

29 29

Matt Garza's ERA by month: 5.52/6.34/4.60. Remember when he was traded for Chris Archer? Fun times.

30 30

Things are such a mess, Sandberg forfeitted millions of dollars to quit now, rather than wait another month or so and get fired and still get all that money. 

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.

For now, it appears Javy Baez has avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

For now, it appears Javy Baez has avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. He was initially scheduled for an X-ray to make sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but that was deemed not necessary throughout the course of the game and it looks as if the Cubs' dynamic young infielder has avoided serious injury.

"I'm fine. Just really sore," Baez said. "It got me really good right on the elbow. I thought the pain was gonna go away right away but kinda numbed my whole arm. We've been icing it. It feels pretty sore, but right now, I'm good."

Baez said he didn't move his arm for almost an hour after getting hit, but wasn't experiencing any numbness or lack of feeling in his left hand or fingers after the game. He didn't rule out playing in Monday night's homestand opener at  Wrigley Field.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow.

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old is in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 season (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.