Cubs

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

dexter-fowler-cubs-0823.png

'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 map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.