Cubs

'You go, we go': Cubs offense has catalyst in Dexter Fowler

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'You go, we go': Cubs offense has catalyst in Dexter Fowler

Look past the long balls soaring out to left, and glance past the excitement of the Cubs’ four starting rookies cutting their teeth in a pennant chase.

There’s another catalyst to the Cubs, now 71-51, and he sits at the top of the lineup.

Dexter Fowler, who kicked off Sunday’s 9-3 win with a no-doubt, opposite-field homer to left, probably isn’t getting the credit he deserves, though he has been every bit as vital to the offensive chemistry as say, Anthony Rizzo. His career-high 14th homer on Sunday came a day after he hit a leadoff triple to jumpstart Saturday’s win over Atlanta. And it’s not just this weekend’s four-game set vs. the Braves, either. Pick any series since mid-July, and his impact has been felt.

“You go, we go,” is what Cubs manager Joe Maddon tells Fowler before every at-bat. “He’s really gotten the strike zone back in order, accepting his walks, hitting the ball hard on both sides.”

[MORE CUBS: Bryant, Cubs use long ball to complete sweep of Braves]

Since the All-Star break, Fowler is hitting .320 with an on-base percentage of .452. His OBP ranks third in the National League over that time frame, while his 83 runs scored rank fifth in all of baseball. In 34 games — the Cubs are 24-10 when he has played in the second half — there was exactly one game where he failed to reach base. And in the 10 games that he didn’t record a hit, he walked 13 times instead.

Not coincidentally, the Cubs’ offense has exploded post-All-Star break. In 35 second-half games, they're averaging 4.97 runs per game compared to the 3.85 they averaged throughout the first 87 games of the season when Fowler not-so-secretly struggled at gauging the strike zone.

“There was times, some calls out of the zone, and I’d get down on myself,” he said from the Cubs’ locker room after Sunday’s sweep. “Not letting those effect me too much.”

Fowler credited Maddon with teaching him how to let go of poor at-bats.

[MORE CUBS: Why Cubs playing greedy down the stretch is a good thing]

The other component of Fowler’s surge is that he has a dangerously potent lineup sitting behind him. The quartet of Kyle Schwarber (10), Chris Coghlan (seven), Rizzo (nine) and Kris Bryant (seven) have combined for 33 homers in the second half. The Cubs' 36 homers in the month of August lead all of baseball.

“Anytime you have a leadoff hitter that’s doing what he’s doing right now, it kind of relaxes everybody else,” Maddon said. “You anticipate good to happen because of what he’s doing. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. I don’t know that it’s taking pressure off anybody else. They see him getting on base, and it’s just a confidence builder. 'OK, he did it, we can do it.' That kind of a thing. His at-bats are good. 'He’s laying off breaking balls down, fastball in the zone, he’s hitting it hard. I can do that too.' I think it’s more of that than anything else.”

In other words, by taking pitches and working an opponent’s starter, he has become the quintessential leadoff hitter the Cubs hoped for when they traded for him this past offseason. Just for reassurances, though, don't think that his new-found pop has gone to his head.

“I just try to get on base and let the big boys do what they need to do."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.