Cubs

Dexter Fowler thrives as table-setter for Cubs lineup

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Dexter Fowler thrives as table-setter for Cubs lineup

ST. LOUIS - Dexter Fowler joked with reporters that he can't divulge the gameplan against Cardinals starter John Lackey in Game 1 of the National League Division Series Friday night.

But for the Cubs, the offensive gameplan is simple: Follow Fowler's lead.

The 29-year-old outfielder set the tone in the NL wild-card game in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, leading off the game with a single, stealing second base and then coming around to score a couple pitches later.

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With Jake Arrieta on the hill, one run was all the Cubs truly needed.

"The leadoff at-bat by Dexter was huge," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's really rare that sometimes you can reflect back on a game of baseball and the very first hitter of the game can set the tone for the entire thing.

"You'd almost think that's crazy, but [Fowler] did."

[MORE: Hendricks gets the call for Game 2 vs. Cardinals]

It's been a running storyline all season that Maddon tells Fowler all the time - "you go, we go" - and it's true.

The Cubs were 55-24 in the regular season when Fowler scored a run - a .696 winning percentage. More importantly, they're undefeated in the postseason when Fowler scores a run.

After a slow first half (.232 average, .308 on-base percentage, .677 OPS), Fowler really turned it on in the second half (.272 AVG, .389 OBP, .852 OPS) as the young Cubs found their identity and hit their stride.

Fowler led the Cubs in runs, walks and stolen bases this season, finishing with career highs in just about every category.

[ALSO: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will escalate to new level]

Even when Fowler is not scoring runs, he's still helping to set the tone for the offense by just working the count and seeing pitches. He finished 10th in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.09).

That culminated in his huge wild-card game, as Fowler added a single, homer and pair of runs to his first-inning success.

The eight-year veteran is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season and he gave Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff a lot of credit for pushing the right buttons to motivate guys inside the clubhouse.

Fowler takes pride in being the catalyst that makes the Cubs offense move - "you go, we go."

"I appreciate it," he said. "[Maddon] tells me that all the time and I definitely take it to heart and try to do what I can."

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.