MLB Power Rankings: Can Cubs secure first place in NL Central?

Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez reacts after hitting a home run during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals. (Matt Marton/AP)

After four straight post-season appearances, Chicago Cubs fans have gotten used to October baseball.

And the team seems well on its way to make a fifth-consecutive run in 2019, currently leading the NL Central with a 69-58 record and a five-game winning streak. However, lead changes in the division have been a recurring theme this year, and Chicago currently holds an advantage of just half a game over second place.

The Cubs have done their share this week, making the most of a relatively easy schedule and earning a series win over the Pittsburgh Pirates and a sweep against the surprisingly decent San Francisco Giants, when they scored 18 runs in three games. The effort has earned them first place in the division and a leap in our MLB Power Rankings.

Helped by Jon Lester and Cole Hamels – who spent some time in the IL but seems to be getting back on track after six innings pitched, three runs allowed and a win against the Giants last Tuesday – the Cubs have the eight-best rotation in baseball (4.00 ERA).

Since last Friday, Chicago starters have posted a 2.35 ERA – third-best league wide during that time. The bullpen has also been solid, with closer Craig Kimbrel earning his 11th save in 13 opportunities on Wednesday.

But there’s still some work to be done in the batter’s box.

The Cubs’ offence ranks 13th in runs batted in, currently sporting a mediocre .253 batting average. If those numbers don’t improve, that could prove the difference between a ticket to the NLDS or a nerve-wracking wild card game, and Cubs fans surely still remember how that turned out in 2018.

The second-place St. Louis Cardinals are still poised to chase the top spot in the NL Central, with a 68-58 record and three more dates with the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field after taking the first game 6-5 on Thursday. And don’t forget Christian Yelich’s Milwaukee Brewers – currently four games out of first place and also one of the big winners in this week’s Power Rankings.

On the losing column, the Toronto Blue Jays have seen last week’s progress become undone, currently on a five-game slump, including a disappointing winless trip to Los Angeles, which included a 16-3 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday.

The Boston Red Sox have also lost some ground, dropping the last two and falling seven games behind in the wild-card race.

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