Cubs

Broken belt in tow, Dexter Fowler looks to tie up loose ends with Cubs

Broken belt in tow, Dexter Fowler looks to tie up loose ends with Cubs

Dexter Fowler played Saturday night like a man who returned to handle unfinished business.

The center fielder and leadoff man not only turned in a pair of spectacular diving grabs in an 8-4 Cubs win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Fowler also homered and scored twice as he finished 2-for-5. If that weren’t enough, the second of Fowler’s highlight-reel grabs resulted in a broken belt loop and he had the perfect view from the on-deck circle of Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit, grand slam that put the Cubs ahead for good.

“It was unbelievable,” Fowler said. “I actually dropped my bat when (Montero) swung. It kind of slowed down, I feel like. I hope it was as big for him as it was for me.”

Make no mistake about it: October is exactly why Fowler returned to the Cubs.

The 30-year-old bypassed more lucrative opportunities when he opted to sign a one-year contract worth $13 million with the Cubs in March. The most public of those was a three-year, $35-million offer from the Baltimore Orioles, a deal many believed was already done when Fowler surprised his teammates during a spring training workout.

[MORE GAME 1 COVERAGE: Miggy Magic: Montero's grand slam lifts Cubs to win over Dodgers]

Impressed with the team’s offseason additions and still pained by its 2015 NLCS defeat — “we took those losses hard,” he said — Fowler said the Cubs were where his “heart is.”

“Dex is a phenomenal teammate and he makes everybody better,” catcher David Ross said. “It says a lot about what he thought of the group in here and this city and this organization. For him to want to come back and be a part of this — I think he knew what was going on here and how special it was and the fact that he’s a phenomenal player, it was a win-win for everybody.”

Fowler displayed several facets of his game in Saturday’s victory.

A table-setter by trade, Fowler got his offense started quickly in the first inning when he ripped a 1-2 fastball from Dodgers starting pitcher Kenta Maeda for a line drive single to center. Four pitches later, Fowler’s speed allowed him to easily score from first on Kris Bryant’s RBI double to left field.

But Fowler made an even bigger impact with his glove as he eliminated several outs for starting pitcher Jon Lester. First, Fowler laid out to rob Justin Turner of a single in the third inning. An inning later, he raced 67 feet back and to his right to making a diving catch to rob Carlos Ruiz of extra bases. According to MLB.com, Fowler’s route was 95.6 percent efficient as he made a play on ball that is normally caught about 43 percent of the time. He also broke his belt upon impact with the ground and needed a quick repair once back in the dugout.

“When Dex makes those two diving plays in the outfield, obviously those are huge, huge momentum changes for us,” Lester said. “I didn’t expect that (Ruiz) ball to be caught at all, and Dex came out of nowhere.”

The Cubs know exactly where they’d be without Fowler after his hamstring injury this summer provided them with sneak preview. The club was 85-40 with the first-time All-Star in the lineup and 18-19 when he didn’t play.

“We were struggling when he was out,” Ross said. “Dex is hugely important.”

Being in this moment carries equal weight with Fowler, who followed Montero’s grand slam off Joe Blanton with a solo shot of his own to extend the Cubs’ lead to five. Fowler very much wanted to return for another October chase with the Cubs and remembers thinking how easily it could have been them against Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series were it not for a quick exit against the New York Mets.

He’s hopeful this ride lasts a little longer.

“It’s my first NLCS win over here,” Fowler said. “We came back to finish what we had started last year. It ended too quickly. But we’ve got another shot and hopefully we take advantage of it.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: