Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Twins make puzzling leap into Top 5

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MLB Power Rankings: Twins make puzzling leap into Top 5

June is upon us now, representing another "checkpoint" in the season. As the season wears on, you could say the cream is rising to the top...if by "cream" you mean "Minnesota Twins." Joe Mauer and Co. (is Mauer really even the face of the Twins anymore? If not him, then who?) are suddenly in first place in the AL Central, above even the high-flying Royals. 

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

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 2

Who needs Wainwright when you have Carlos Martinez? Cards are 9-2 when he starts.

2   3

Andre Ethier has a .914 OPS. Remember when he was considered washed up?

3 1

After his narrow escape Sunday at Wrigley Field, Wade Davis still hasn’t allowed a run in 22 innings this year. 

4   6

They begin June leading the AL Central after 20 wins in May. Now the real fun starts to see if they can hang on.

5 4

3-game losing streak can't keep them out of the Top 5.

6   5

As long as Dallas Keuchel starts every fifth game, they won’t go on many long losing streaks. 

7 7

Keys to success? How about a lineup that features 6 everyday players hitting .295 or higher (5 of which have OBPs over .369)?

8 11

They're still only two over .500 despite recent hot streak and the 4th-best run differential (+34) in MLB.

9 10

Bartolo Colon had a 6.00 ERA in May, but the Mets will probably keep him around just to keep things light in the clubhouse for when he does things like this

10 9

Cardiac Cubs lead MLB in walk-off wins and are 14-10 in one-run games.

11   13

Get the nod over Detroit for sweeping a four-game series against the Tigers over the weekend. 

12 8

All eyes are on Justin Verlander’s rehab stint (which didn’t start well) to see if he can be the solution to their pitching problems. 

13 12

Just like we all drew it up, the Rays, Twins and Astros are leading their respective divisions on June 1. 

14 14

In a weak AL East, this aging, flawed roster has a legitimate playoff shot — especially if Masahiro Tanaka returns strong to the rotation.

15 13

Josh Hamilton has a .273/.385/.636 slash line with two home runs through seven games. What a steal to get him. 

16 19

Corey Kluber is averaging more strikeouts and fewer walks per 9 IP than he did last year, when he won the Cy Young. 

17 18

Juan Uribe already has more homers in a Braves uniform than Nick Markakis.

18 20

Paul Goldschmidt is unreal right now - .354/.463/.680 slash line with 15 HRs and 8 SBs.

19 22

It's crazy to think Justin Upton is still only 27. He's doing everything he can (.913 OPS, 10 steals) to get Padres over .500, but it's just not working.

20   17

What looked like a stacked roster has been one of baseball’s biggest disappointments through two months. 

21 16

They’re not doing anything especially good or bad (hitting/pitching/fielding), which isn’t necessarily a detriment in the AL East. 

22 23 Video game offense + rough pitching = good run differential, sub-optimal record.
23 25

Tulo homering twice in one game is nice and all, but was it just a good game or a sign of things to come?

24 24

Position players have combined for -0.7 WAR, the worst in baseball. But Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton shouldn’t have negative WARs for much longer, you’d think. 

25 29

Should they trade Cueto? Uhhh...yeah. No brainer.

26 21

Not even re-signing Jon Lester could’ve saved this moribund pitching staff.

27 26

Good news for Scott Kazmir, who’ll have to be healthy and effective if they want to pull out of this deep hole they dug themselves.

28 28

Former Cubs prospect Justin Bour with homers in three straight games and now hitting cleanup behind Giancarlo.

29 27

7-game losing streak at the hands of Nationals, Mets and Rockies just icing on the cake in a lost season.

30 30

Lucroy returns, but does it even matter at this point?

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.