Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Who can win muddled AL wild card race?

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MLB Power Rankings: Who can win muddled AL wild card race?

Entering Monday, eight teams were within six games of the American League's final wild card spot. Texas currently is in position to face the AL East runner-up -- be it Toronto or New York -- though with so many teams bunched together, all it could take is one late-season hot streak for a muddled wild card race to be cleared up.

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

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

They could insert a pair of senior citizens in as injury replacements and still somehow play .600+ baseball. Unreal.

2   2

Greg Holland looks mortal (3.55 ERA, 5.45 BB/9), so what would it take for Wade Davis to be their playoff closer?

3 3

In such a tough position where even a mediocre week at any time could have them looking up at Cubs in wild card race instead of gunning for the division.

4   4

You could make the case that they're the most exciting team in baseball, but will they be able to rise above their latest injuries?

5 7

Josh Donaldson: 34 HR, 100 RBI, 7.2 WAR. He's the AL MVP if the season ended today.

6 10

An impressive sweep of the Dodgers over the weekend was bookended by Mike Fiers' no-hitter and Jason Castro's walk-off home run.

7 6

The geriatric trio of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran has combined for 70 home runs.

8 9

David Wright returning should be a boost, even if he doesn't play. His presence and clubhouse influence has to give them a shot in the arm.

9 5

Clinging to a 1.5 game lead on the Giants in the NL West.

10 8

Suddenly six games back in the wild card and it looks like their best bet into the playoffs is through the division.

11 12

Enter the week leading the race for the AL's No. 2 wild card spot, but do they have the pitching to hang on to it?

12 17

Could've been left for dead in the wild card race before putting together an impressive four-game sweep of Baltimore at Camden Yards.

13 15

Don't look now, but the Diamondbacks are coming up on the Giants and Nationals in the NL wild card race.

14 11

The only team in the race for the AL's second wild card spot with a positive run differential, but that didn't stop them from blowing that disastrous four-game series against the Twins.

15 15

At least Anthony Rendon is starting to hit, but is it too late?

16 13

They don't have a single pitcher with two or more fWAR. That's not good.

17 14

They come across as a pretty mediocre side, but could have good enough pitching to make things interesting in September.

18 20

The offense turned on the jets and coasted to a five-game winning streak before running into the Cardinals' brick wall Sunday.

19 21

Their defense has improved, but it looks like too little, too late.

20 19

Six games under .500, five and a half games out of a playoff spot. Yep, that's the AL wild card race.

21 18

Miguel Cabrera has been incredible, albeit in only 88 games: .367/.472/.601.

22 22 Nelson Cruz is on pace to set a career high in home runs (has 37, career best is 40) and it's done nothing to help Seattle carve out a spot in the playoff race.
23 24

There are a lot of aging, expensive players here, but they've seen encouraging seasons from Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt, at least.

24 27

"It's not that hard, tell him Wash."

25 26

Khris Davis is mashing the ball again, but it's just too little, way too late.

26 25

Considering they're in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, you could make the case they should be No. 30 on this list, but then again, so could any of these bottom five teams (all NL).

27 23

As if they already didn't know they were out of it, seven-game losing streak kicks them while they're down.

28 29

Fast becoming one of the most disappointing seasons in Marlins history.

29 28

They now have the worst record in baseball by percentage.

30 30

It's going to take some time to get used to seeing the Phillies without Chase Utley.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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