Cubs

MLB Power Rankings: Yoenis Cespedes blasts Mets atop NL East

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MLB Power Rankings: Yoenis Cespedes blasts Mets atop NL East

No, Yoenis Cespedes isn't a legitimate contender for National League MVP, but the New York Mets wouldn't be nine and a half games ahead of the Washington Nationals in the NL East without the 16 home runs he's hit in 40 games since being acquired just before the trade deadline. The Mets woke up on the morning of July 31 at 52-50, three games behind Washington in the division. With Cespedes on the team, they've gained 11.5 games on the Nationals and are 30-11. Goodness.

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

Rank Team
Last Week Comment
1 1

As I asked last week: Are all the injuries finally catching up to them?

2   3

Taking full advantage of Cardinals' recent down turn.

3 3

Johnny Cueto could be costing himself millions in free agency with his 5.43 ERA in nine starts with the Royals.

4   6

 Took three of four from the Yankees in New York and enter the week leading the AL East by three and a half games (with a +198 run differential!). 

5 4

Missed a golden opportunity by dropping last two games to lowly Phillies.

6 8

No, Cespedes is not the NL MVP.

7 5

Hot stretch has them tied with Cubs for third-best record in NL now.

8 7

They still have three games left with Toronto, but if they slip any further Joe Girardi may want to start lining up his rotation for the wild card game.

9 9

Huge four-game series at Texas starting Monday night will go a long way toward determining if they win the AL West or have to fight for the second wild card spot.

10 10

 They’re 25-15 since the start of August and 8-4 against Houston this year. This is gonna be a fun week.

11 13

Madison Bumgarner since Aug. 1: 7-1, 1.81 ERA, 73 K in 59.2 IP. Awesome, but too little, too late for Giants' postseason chances. 

12 12

 Their vexing dominance of Chris Sale is a big reason why they’re still in the playoff race.

13 15

 A four-game series at Minnesota starting Thursday could be critical for their wild card hopes.

14 11

 This team just can't stay healthy. Ryan Zimmerman was killing the ball, then goes down with an oblique. Watch out for them next year, though.

15 14

 The secret behind their late run at the wild card? A massive defensive turnaround

16 21

 Finally righted the ship after a horrid stretch, but enter the week six games out of the wild card in a case of too little, too late.

17 18

 David Peralta since July 26: .368/.399/.559 (.958 OPS) in 44 games. He's turning into a star.

18 16

 Matt Moore returned to the rotation last week and the results weren’t any better (8R/5IP vs. Boston). Not all Tommy John recoveries are immediate successes.

19 20

Since Dave Dombrowski took over Aug. 18, the Red Sox are 16-6 and Tom Brady triumphed over the NFL. Let the #Hottakes roll.

20 17

Kyle Seager has been on a tear since facing the White Sox last month: .422/.486/.781, 6 HR in 17

21 19

Only 16 White Sox starters since 1901 have made 30 or more starts with an ERA of 4.89 or higher. Jeff Samardzija would be No. 17 at this rate (the last was Jose Contreras in 2007).

22 22 J.D. Martinez had -1.1 WAR in 252 games with Houston. Since coming to Detroit, he has 8.6 WAR in 262 games.
23 23

Matt Kemp has 15 HR, 50 RBI and a .935 OPS since July 8. Padres needed that earlier in the year, but he's proving he's not washed up yet.

24 22

Did well to get Domingo Santana (.964 OPS) from Houston at the deadline. 

25 28

Jose Fernandez is just ridiculous. 2.06 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 60 Ks in 48 innings ridiculous coming off Tommy John surgery and biceps injury.

26 25

Instead of talking about this year’s bad A’s team, let’s remember some guys from the 2002 team: Olmedo Saenz, Terrence Long, Jim Mecir, Chad Bradford.

27 26

Looks like they have a nice long-term rotation piece with Anthony DeSclafani, who's been solid all year.

28 27

Nolan Arenado is just ridiculous. Who would've pegged him to hit 40 HR this season?

29 30

 If they played the Cubs even just one series a month, this season would've gone far differently.

30 29

They very well may end up with the No. 1 pick the way they've been losing lately.=

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

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USA TODAY

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

For the 10 teams that qualify for MLB’s postseason, October represents a chance to climb baseball’s mountain and secure a championship. For the 20 other teams sitting at home, though, October is a chance to evaluate those in the Big Dance.

Less than two weeks into the postseason, here’s some things that the Cubs can take away from the action thus far.

1. Starting pitching matters

With bullpens being relied on more than ever, starting pitchers aren’t used the same way as just a few seasons ago. The Brewers rode their bullpen all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS last season, while the Rays used an “opener” (a reliever who starts a game and pitches 1-3 innings) in Game 4 of the ALDS this season – beating the Astros 4-1.

And yet, the Astros and Nationals are proving how important it is to have a difference-making rotation. The bullpening method can work, but being able to throw Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke at an opponent in a single postseason series is downright unfair.

The Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in their rotation, as formidable of a trio as any in the National League. They also have Anibal Sánchez, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals on Friday. No big deal...

And despite getting eliminated, the Rays — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton — and Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu — have talented rotations, as do the Cardinals and Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Cubs rotation didn’t have as big of an impact this season as they expected, a contributing factor to the team not making it to October.

“We had really high hopes for our starting group this year," Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "You looked at it 1-through-5, we had a chance to roll out a really quality starter on a nightly basis, and that might be an area that was a separator for us versus some of the teams we were competing with. While we had a couple guys who had really good years and all our starters had their moments, it didn't prove to be a separator.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned. It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well. We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester are under contract for 2020, while Jose Quintana has an $11.5 team option. The Cubs don’t have an Astros or Nationals-esque trio, but their rotation can still be good enough to lead the charge in 2020. They’ll need them to do just that if they are to return to the top of the NL Central.

2. Manager decision-making is far more important in October than regular season

The Dodgers’ season came to an abrupt close in Game 5 of the NLDS, with manager Dave Roberts being smack dab in the spotlight.

With the Dodgers leading 3-1 in the seventh inning, Roberts called Clayton Kershaw’s number to get Los Angeles out of a two on, two out jam. Kershaw did just that, but the Nationals opened the eighth with home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (on consecutive pitches) to tie the game.

Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in his generation, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP. However, his postseason woes are real (4.43 ERA, 32 games/25 starts), and therefore, Roberts made a questionable decision going with Kershaw in that moment. 

Where was Kenta Maeda to face Rendon? Maeda had allowed just a single hit in 3 2/3 innings at this point in the postseason. He took over for Kershaw after Soto’s home run, striking out three-straight Dodgers to end the eighth. 

Roberts also didn't bring in closer Kenley Jansen to start the 10th inning, when the game was still tied 3-3. Instead, he left in Joe Kelly, who allowed a decisive grand slam to Howie Kendrick. Only then did Jansen come in, but the damage was done. Not bringing in your closer in an extra-inning postseason game is inexcusable, and while it may be outcome bias, this game proves why.

Roberts has 393 wins in four seasons as Dodgers manager, leading them to World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. Even with that experience, though, he made a bad decision at a terrible time. The postseason is a different animal, not only for players, but the coaches in the dugouts, too.

Of the known candidates the Cubs have interviewed for manager — David Ross, Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Will Venable — only Girardi has big-league managing experience. And while Epstein noted at his press conference that it isn’t everything, he added that experience is important.

"Lack of experience - and I'm speaking broadly for the group, not necessarily [about Ross] - is always a factor,” Epstein said. “It's not a determining factor, but it's a significant factor. I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before. Especially with manager.

“But I think there are ways for that to be overcome - there are a lot of different ways to get experience in this game - beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.”

3. Winning in the postseason is tough

After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, there was a feeling that baseball’s next dynasty was underway. After all, the Cubs had a talented, young position player group that reached the promised land early in their time together. It made sense.

Those talks have died down, of course, as the Cubs haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 2016. And while they've had plenty of success since 2015, it feels like they could’ve had more.

The thing about baseball, though, is that it’s extremely hard to sustain those high levels of success. A few teams (Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants) have won multiple World Series this century, none have repeated as champions since the Yankees, who won three-straight from 1998-2000.

The Twins won 101 games this season and were swept out of the ALDS. The Braves won 97, only to lose Game 5 of the NLDS in brutal fashion at home to the Cardinals.

The Dodgers made it to the World Series in 2017 and 2018 and came up empty both times. They won 106 games this season, a franchise record, only to be eliminated in the NLDS by the Nationals — a Wild Card team, nonetheless.

Does that make last few seasons even more frustrating for the Cubs and their fans? Probably. October is a crapshoot, meaning as long as a team gets in, they have a shot at winning it all, no matter their record.

At the same time, the Cubs made things look easy in 2016. They had brilliant injury luck, a historic defense, a deep position player group, a loaded starting rotation and the right manager for their young core. Even so, it took erasing a 3-to-1 series deficit against the Indians to win it all, not to mention a dramatic Game 7 win that nearly didn’t go their way.

This isn’t an excuse for the Cubs shortcomings in 2019, but merely a reminder: they won the 2016 World Series, and that's no small feat. This offseason offers the chance to improve as a team for 2020, when they’ll set out to win again.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

David Kaplan shares his thoughts on the Cubs, the decision to move on from Joe Maddon (0:50), the process in hiring a new manager (2:40), and who should be in the dugout next season (4:05).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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