Cubs see Dexter Fowler becoming the catalyst for their offense


Cubs see Dexter Fowler becoming the catalyst for their offense

DENVER – This is exactly how the Cubs pictured Dexter Fowler as they designed their blueprints this offseason, creating a sense of momentum from the leadoff spot and flying around the bases.

Fowler became the catalyst during Saturday’s 9-5 win over the Colorado Rockies in front of 43,812 at Coors Field, jumpstarting an offense that had scored three runs combined during the season’s first three games.

It left Fowler feeling a little winded: “I had forgotten about running here.”

Fowler lined Kyle Kendrick’s first pitch of the game into the gap in left-center field, sprinting to third base and scoring on Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly. Fowler tripled again in the second inning, driving a ball into the right-field corner and scoring two more runs. Fowler also walked twice, showing the on-base skills the Cubs have been missing.

“This guy is probably on the verge of becoming really, really good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s at that age (29) where things start making sense all the way around. He’s a young veteran. He’s had enough experience. I’m really eager to watch this all unfold.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Remember all the sleight of-hand tricks with small sample sizes and all the anxiety about this lineup’s failure to deliver in the clutch?

The Cubs (2-2) changed the subject, at least for one night, notching their first home runs this season in the third inning, when Chris Coghlan and Mike Olt blasted back-to-back shots. Starlin Castro added another homer off Kendrick in the fifth inning.

“People are going to talk,” Fowler said. “People are going to say what they need to say. At the end of the day, we play 162 games and some stuff’s going to fall our way. We hit the ball hard, some right at people in those situations. We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We just got to go out and keep swinging it.”

The Rockies drafted Fowler out of Milton High School in Georgia in 2004, convincing the 14th-round pick to give up other options that included the chance to play basketball at Harvard University. After getting traded to the Houston Astros, and then to the Cubs this winter, Fowler is now in his walk year, setting himself up for a nice contract (probably somewhere else) if he produces.

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Fowler checked a lot of boxes as a switch-hitter who can get on base and play center field. He could be the right guy at the right time for this group as a prime-age player with something to prove.

“That’s when they really have the chance to truly come into their own,” Maddon said. “The game slows down, they understand it better. I think at that point, they’re truly just about winning.

“This guy truly is dedicated to the game right now and I can see where he’s wanting to get to that next level. He’s a bright fellow, so I enjoy the conversation anyway. But you can just see his wheels spinning to become better at what he’s doing. He’s been very impressive.”

Jason Hammel – who won 27 games for the Rockies between 2009 and 2011 – again showed he knows how to survive in the mile-high altitude. Hammel lasted six innings and gave up three runs, chipping in with two hits of his own and capitalizing on this sudden burst of offensive support.

“We just got to be more patient,” Fowler said. “I think everybody’s a little amped up opening week or whatever. Everybody’s trying to get that big hit. (But) we relaxed tonight, so hopefully we just keep it going.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).