MLB Power Rankings: Cubs slipping?

natscutin052616refframe_1.jpg

MLB Power Rankings: Cubs slipping?

The mighty Cubs might have some weaknesses after all. After opening strong out of the gate, the Cubs have dropped some questionable games of late. Weirdly enough, this weekend's series against the Phillies might go a long way in determining where they're at as a team. How did the rest of the league fare this week? To the rankings! 

30. Atlanta Braves (LW: 30)

They're on pace to have the worst offense ever. 

29. Minnesota Twins (LW: 29)

If they wanted to fire hitting coach Tom Brunansky, it seems like waiting until they were 12-34 to do so wasn't the smartest idea. 

28. San Diego Padres (LW: 27)

Melvin Upton Jr. might be their best trade asset, which is such a bizarre sentence. 

27. Houston Astros (LW: 28)

Taking two of three from the Orioles is a nice starting point. 

26. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 25) 

Nothing like the ol' mid-May 10-game losing streak. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE

Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

natscutin052616refframe_1.jpg

Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

Part of the maturation process for any young starting pitcher in big leagues typically involves learning how to work through tough situations late in games — even if running on fumes. And in the seventh inning of Thursday's 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Dusty Baker leaned on Joe Ross to do just that. 

With the Nats clinging to a one-run lead, the Cards sent Yadier Molina to the plate with men on first and second base and no outs as Washington's 23-year-old right hander's pitch count was climbing past triple digits. Though Baker had lefty reliever Oliver Perez warming in the bullpen just in case, the Nats' skipper trusted his starter to find a way to get through the frame.

That trust paid off; Ross struck out Molina and then induced a ground ball from Kolten Wong for an inning-ending double play. The key moment came on Ross' 110th pitch of the night — a career-high — which helped snap his personal four-game losing streak to even his record at 4-4. 

"Kind of a big deal," Ross said of the seventh. "[Baker] trusts the starters to work our way out of the jams. He’s definitely shown that not only with me but all of the other guys. I think it’s good you kind of earn that trust or he let's you go out there and do your job. To be able to get out of the inning was huge."

Of course, one inning doesn't define what a pitcher is made of, but Thursday's effort was yet another step in Ross' evolution as he showed an important trait that Baker wants to see from his rotation. 

"What it can do for him is to pitch to the situation," the manager said. "Sometimes you need a strikeout, which he got on Yadier Molina, a very tough hitter. And then he pitched to the situation to try get a ground ball from Kolten Wong, and that's what pitching's all about....You hit to the situation, and you pitch to the situation. We were fortunate enough tonight that Joe did both."

"It was big for me to kind of build that confidence late in the game to try and get out of there and give us a chance to win," Ross added. 

Ross' escape was impressive, but hardly surprising. The former San Diego Padres farmhand has shown poise beyond his years ever since he joined the Nats organization in December of 2014. And after Thursday's outing, he owns an ERA of 2.52 for the season, lowest among Nats' starters. Not bad for a guy who was once considered the secondary piece of the trade that sent top shortstop prospect Trea Turner to Washington.  

"It's a lot of fun to watch him pitch, especially at the age he is," Bryce Harper said. "Being able to come up and do what he did last year and do what he's doing now. He's got the stuff to be very, very good one day."

Bryce Harper cut up his batting gloves so they wouldn't be sold online

usatsi_9310939.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper cut up his batting gloves so they wouldn't be sold online

When Bryce Harper came to the plate sans batting gloves for his third at-bat on Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the move appeared to be his latest attempt to break out of his month-long slump. With the gloves on, he had struck out and weakly grounded out in his prior chances, so perhaps this was just another trick to try and get him out of his funk. 

Cameras even caught Harper ripping his gloves in the dugout apart just before the plate appearance, so it was clear this was not an accident. But as he revealed after the game, while it was done intentionally, it wasn't for the reasons you'd think. 

"Nah, it's just so people don't sell them on eBay to tell you the truth," Harper said afterward. 

Huh? EBay?

"I always cut the batting gloves up," he continued, "and [they] ripped on the top of the hand and [I] had the bat boy come in and give me another pair and put them on and ripped them again."

Regardless of the motivations, going glove-less worked; Harper launched a mammoth home run to the third deck to tie the game, which marked his first long ball in nearly two weeks. 

"I guess the baseball gods don't want me to wear the batting gloves right now," he quipped. "I went up and hit a homer and came back and cut 'em up just so guys don't come out of the trash can and grab 'em and sell 'em. It's happened before."

Alrighty then. Apparently people have been trying to auction off Harper memorabilia before he was able to put a stop to it. So if you're looking to sell some game-worn Harper batting gloves, it sounds like you won't be finding any in the trash cans near the Nats dugout.