Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Where do Cubs sit entering final week?

9-28jakearrieta.png

MLB Power Rankings: Where do Cubs sit entering final week?

The Cubs are having their best season in years and enter the week with their magic number for clinching a wild card berth at five. But unless something changes with this weekend's critical series against Pittsburgh, they're the third-best team in the National League Central -- which is far less a knock against the Cubs and more a compliment to baseball's best division. It's certainly led to an interesting wild card race, much better than the mediocre hellscape of the race for the American League's No. 2 wild card spot.

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 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22 | Week 23

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

Is their deal with the devil finally over?

2   3

So this Gerrit Cole dude is pretty good, huh?

3 5

They're the first team since the 2006 White Sox with three players with 35 or more home runs (Donaldson/Bautista/Encarnacion, Konerko/Dye/Thome).

4   3

Jake Arrieta is an alien. Has to be.

5 4

Wade Davis, who will close in the postseason, has actually lowered his ERA from 1.00 in 2014 to 0.97 in 2015.

6 7

With great starting pitching, a solid bullpen and a lineup featuring Cespedes-Wright-Duda, this Mets team could be scary in the postseason.

7 8

The biggest question is if Masahiro Tanaka will return to the Yankees rotation this week to tee him up for the Oct. 6 wild card game.

8 6

Would argue they're the least intimidating of any NL playoff team, despite scary-high payroll.

9 9

Two and a half games up on Houston, three up on Los Angeles entering the season's final week. Not safe, but close.

10 13

Gunning for the wild card, but have a four-game series against Texas to end the season.

11 10

Their bullpen has a 6.21 ERA in September, which is no way to try to hang on to a playoff spot.

12 11

Technically, they woke up Monday morning with a 0.1 percent chance of making the postseason.

13 14

Even if they don't make the playoffs, this team (and Paul Molitor) deserves a ton of credit for being in contention every week of the season.

14 12

Both Matt Williams and Jonathan Papelbon need to get out of DC now. This has gotten completely out of hand.

15 15

Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are a rock-solid 1-2 duo around which to build.

16 20

David Ortiz earned his [expletive].

17 17

If Manny Machado gets two more steals, he'll be the first player with 30 HR, 20 SB and .800+ OPS before turning 24 since Mike Trout in 2012.

18 20

Ender Inciarte (.304 AVG, .743 SLG, 21 steals) flying under the radar just like David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and most of this D-Backs team.

19 19

Chris Archer's rough September (6.58 ERA in five starts) shouldn't take away from what's been a spectacular season for the 27-year-old.

20 23

This is the most exciting thing to happen at Petco Park all season.

21 16

We had them ranked No. 4 as the top AL team before the season. Uhhh...

22 21 For all the offseason buzz, they didn't fix a defense that was the third-worst in baseball by UZR last year. This year: Dead last.
23 22

Victor Martinez has been worth -1.9 WAR this year, and still has three years left on a $68 million contract. Yikes.

24 25

They've had four winning streaks of at least three games in September already. Odd.

25 28

We are all witness to Nolan Arenado's breakout season (41 HR, 126 RBI, .888 OPS).

26 24

The Tim Hudson-Barry Zito matchup on Saturday was awesome, even if the game ended with a 14-10 score.

27 27

Rallied for seven runs on Trevor Rosenthal and the Cardinals in the ninth inning Sunday, proving Brewers can definitely play spoiler in this final week.

28 26

You better believe they're going to want to impact the playoff race with series against Cubs and Pirates this week.

29 29

Swept out of Miami just another dark chapter in this sad season.

30 30

At least they don't have to worry about Papelbon anymore?

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?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
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.