Cubs

Cubs waiting for everything to click with Dexter Fowler

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Cubs waiting for everything to click with Dexter Fowler

Joe Maddon floated the idea that Dexter Fowler would be the right player at the right time for the Cubs. The manager talked up his new switch-hitting leadoff guy/centerfielder in spring training as someone on the verge of a breakout season.

Maddon felt Fowler would be playing at a prime age (29) and had already seen a lot with the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros.

The media noticed how Fowler had once made the interesting decision to turn down an offer to play basketball at Harvard University. Cubs officials pointed out Fowler had worked with new hitting coach John Mallee last season in Houston and would help create this new identity as a grinding type of offense. 

[MORE: Cardinals make it another frustrating night for Cubs and Jon Lester]

It hasn’t quite happened yet.

“I believe it’s there,” Maddon said at Wrigley Field. “I believe you’re going to see it by the end of the season. He’s probably even trying a little bit too hard to set the table for us. And that’s why I wanted to back it off a little bit.”

So Maddon dropped Fowler to the seventh spot on Monday and moved Chris Coghlan into the leadoff position. It didn’t make a difference in a 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals — lineup shakeups usually don’t matter and the offensive issues are team-wide now. But Fowler did walk, single and drive a ball to the warning track against right-hander John Lackey.     

“Just take a little heat off him,” Maddon said. “I actually texted him today — we went back and forth. I just told him I had a different idea for today until he really gets it going from the left side. Because when he’s got it going on, he really does make us great. Look at the numbers when he gets on base and scores a run, (see) what our record looks like (27-12).

[RELATED: Cubs: All-Star future is now for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant]    

“It’s obvious right now there’s a disconnect between the left- and right-handed side.”

Fowler should be back at the top of the order for Tuesday’s doubleheader against St. Louis left-handers Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney. Fowler is hitting .340 with an .833 OPS against lefties — while hitting only .210 with a .655 OPS against right-handers.

Overall, Fowler is hitting .230 in his walk year, with eight homers, 11 stolen bases and 51 runs scored. His .308 on-base percentage is 58 points lower than his career average heading into this season.

That makes tagging Fowler with a qualifying offer — and getting the draft-pick compensation once he signs elsewhere — a more complicated decision.

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Then again, it’s not like the Cubs have all these outfielders forcing the issue at Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee for 2016 (unless you pull the plug on Kyle Schwarber’s catching experiment).

Fowler still has the second half to put it all together, and the Cubs in a pennant race will be a big platform.

“His defense has been really good, and his baserunning has been really good,” Maddon said. “I have a lot of faith in this guy. He’s really a bright young man. He comes to play every day. It hasn’t manifested itself yet.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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KELLY CRULL

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”