Cubs

Cubs see Dexter Fowler becoming the catalyst for their offense

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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.

[MORE: It's up to union to change Cubs/Kris Bryant situation]

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.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

Mark Schanowski, Mark Carman and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs take 2 out of 3 from the D'Backs thanks to a surprisingly solid start from Tyler Chatwood. Should the Cubs trust him more than they trust Yu Darvish? Meanwhile, the bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

12:00- The guys preview the huge series against the Dodgers at Wrigley.

16:00- The White Sox lose 2 of 3 in Detroit but Kap is still excited about the future.

20:00- The NBA Eastern Conference playoffs are becoming a fight. So who will win the East? And can anybody even threaten the Warriors?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Cubs pitching coming through with Jon Lester injured

Cubs pitching coming through with Jon Lester injured

After starting the season 2-7 on the road, two weeks without Jon Lester looked like a possible death sentence for the Cubs. Instead, it now looks like a turning point.

Somebody needed to step up. Anybody. Bullpen or rotation, but preferably both. Well, that is exactly what happened and the Cubs are quickly back to the .500 mark at 10-10.

Jose Quintana was the first to accept the challenge, dominating the surprising Pirates with the eleven strikeouts and then seven shutout innings against the lowly Marlins in his next outing. He pitched "like a Porcshe" while attacking batters in both games with precision handling and it was contagious. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood followed his lead while the bullpen turned around their production, too.

Our stats guru, Chris Kamka, offered up these facts to show the startling improvements.

In the first nine games, the Cubs' team ERA, starter ERA and reliever ERA all ranked 29th or worse in MLB. It's a team game, but it was obvious which part of the team was struggling. Over the last 11 games, everything has changed. Since that opening road trip from Hell, the Cubs have led the majors in all three categories. The relievers have posted a 1.85 ERA and the starters are at a blistering 1.66 ERA with six quality starts since Lester went on the injured list. 

Yes, it's a small sample size in a 162 game season. However, if we're going to overreact to a disastrous start, it's only fair to also hyperbolize this spectacular stretch. We asked for somebody to step-up. The Cubs' pitching staff did just that.    

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