Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Picking each team's first half MVP

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MLB Power Rankings: Picking each team's first half MVP

We're at the unofficial halfway point of the 2015 season, and we've seen plenty of surprises, like the Twins (in a good way) and the Mariners (in a bad way). It's also not too surprising the St. Louis Cardinals have been at or near the top of our rankings ever since spring training wrapped up three and a half months ago.

With that comes another week of MLB Power Rankings from CSNChicago.com's Tony Andracki and JJ Stankevitz. This week, we're listing our first half MVPs for each team.

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

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Jhonny Peralta. Hard to argue here given all the injuries the Cardinals have faced. Peralta's .828 OPS and 2.1 WAR have been a godsend to STL.

2   2

A.J. Burnett. Andrew McCutchen is an obvious choice given how he's turned his season around after a slow start, but did anybody expect this out of the 38-year-old Burnett in the first half??

3 3

Lorenzo Cain. He’s a legitimate star who’s powered Kansas City’s offense and paced a great defense that’s allowed a so-so pitching staff to be successful.

4   6

Joc Pederson/Yasmani Grandal. Zack Greinke's been unreal, but his contributions were expected. Pederson (.851 OPS) and Grandal (.927) have been welcome - and much-needed - surprises for the Dodgers.

5 5

Bryce Harper. C'mon, how could it be anybody else?

6 8

Albert Pujols. Mike Trout is the best player in the AL, maybe in baseball. But Pujols’ resurgence (26 HR, 2.1 WAR) has been critical in vaulting the Angels back into first place at the All-Star break.

7 9

Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira. Combined, these two aging sluggers have 40 home runs that’ve been critical in supporting a pitching staff with a 3.96 ERA, 11th-highest in baseball.

8 7

Jake Arrieta/Jason Hammel. With a rotation that has been inconsistent, Arrieta (2.66 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) and Hammel (2.86, 0.95) have been essential to Cubs' success thus far.

9 11

Brian Dozier. His dramatic walk-off home run against Detroit last week was the exclamation point on Minnesota’s out-of-nowhere first-half success.

10 4

Dallas Keuchel. He started the All-Star Game and has a 2.23 ERA/2.82 FIP at the break, but unfortunately for the lagging Astros, he can’t start every game.

11   14

Joe Panik. The Giants have had so many underrated contributors (Aoki, Duffy, Crawford, Belt), but nobody's been better than Panik (.820 OPS).

12 16

Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year proved he's for real with a stellar first half (2.14 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and added a dominant All-Star apperance to boost.

13 13

Chris Archer. If his nickname isn’t “Codename Duchess” yet, we’ve failed. His 2.74 ERA is a big reason why the Rays aren’t buried in the up-and-down AL East.

14 10

Manny Machado. At 23, his monster first half (4.2 WAR, 19 HR, 13 SB) puts him in the MVP discussion, where he’ll stay if Baltimore makes a second-half run.

15 12

Josh Donaldson. Remember when Oakland traded him for Brett Lawrie? Whoops. His 4.7 WAR is the third-highest total in the American League. Lawrie: 1.0 WAR.

16 15

J.D. Martinez. With Miguel Cabrera out for the next few weeks and Victor Martinez struggling, he and Yoenis Cespedes (3.3 WAR) will have to prop up this shaky, .500 team.

17 17

Paul Goldschmidt/A.J. Pollock. Goldschmidt was expected to produce, but nobody expected his ridiculous first half (.340/.455/.610 slash line, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 16 SB). Pollock has emerged as a must-needed spark atop the lineup with an .814 OPS and fantastic CF defense.

18 20

Jason Kipnis. He leads all players not named Harper or Trout in WAR (4.8) and is making his 2014 regression (0.8 WAR) look like a major fluke.

19 21

Clay Buchholz. He’s the only player (3.26 ERA/2.62 FIP) keeping a generally awful starting rotation from the abyss.

20 27

Chris Sale. Baseball’s most dominant first-half pitcher and someone who the White Sox shouldn’t trade, even if he’d fetch a massive haul in return.  Baseball’s most dominant first-half pitcher and someone who the White Sox shouldn’t trade, even if he’d fetch a massive haul in return.

21 18

Yovani Gallardo. With a 2.62 ERA, the right-hander should fetch the spinning-their-wheels Rangers a decent prospect at the trade deadline.

22 19 Shelby Miller. Miller's 2.38 ERA and 1.15 WHIP established him as an All-Star and ensured the Braves undoubtedly won the Jason Heyward trade.
23 22

Nelson Cruz. Unfortunately, his 21 home runs and .308/.373/.546 line haven’t translated into much offensive success for one of baseball’s biggest first-half disappointments.

24 21

Justin Upton. He's the only offseason big-ticket acquisition to actually play up to his potential this season.

25 25

Sonny Gray. His 2.04 ERA leads the American League and is only bested by Zack Greinke’s 1.39 mark.

26 24

Todd Frazier. In a lost season for the Reds, Frazier (.922 OPS) has taken his game to the next level and given Reds fans reason to cheer all year, including his chilling Home Run Derby performance.

27 28

Nolan Arenado. The 24-year-old established himself as a bonafide offensive star (.926 OPS, 24 HR, 70 RBI) to go with his awesome defense.

28 26

Adam Lind. A .292 AVG and .887 OPS has helped stabilize the lineup.

29 29

Dee Gordon. I wanted to give it to Giancarlo Stanton (.952 OPS), but Gordon's 122 hits, .338 average and good defense has been a welcome addition to the Marlins.

30 30

Cole Hamels. Hamels has been a stud (3.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.49 K/9) and will bring a big return back to the Phils...if their front office is smart enough to trade him.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.