Chicago Cubs fans were looking forward to the opportunity to lord a few laughs over their counterparts from the St. Louis Cardinals before Friday’s series opener. Dexter Fowler was back at Wrigley Field for the first time since winning the World Series last season and he was receiving his championship ring while wearing a jersey featuring two birds and a bat.
That Fowler would have to take the ring and then stash it away in the visiting Cardinals clubhouse was a fact too delicious to ignore for Cubs fans.
They pictured the reaction of most Cardinals fans to look, like, well this …
The glee, however, was temporarily suspended before the Cubs managed a 3-2 victory to end the team’s longest losing streak in Joe Maddon’s tenure on the North Side. After receiving a nice ovation from Cubs fans, Fowler went out and hit a leadoff home run, just like he did against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
The homer, which came off a 3-2 pitch from former teammate John Lackey, sailed so high into the right field bleachers that Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward didn’t even bother to turn. The Cardinals had responded to the Cubs’ knife twist with one of their own.
The Cubs came into Friday’s game dragging a six-game losing streak and an unsightly and unchampionlike 25-27 record, bad enough for third in the NL Central. The reasons for Chicago’s struggles are many, but among the most oft-cited is the lack of production from the leadoff spot.
The Kyle Schwarber experiment didn’t go as planned — he hit .190/.311/.366 with 27 runs, six homers and 17 RBI before being dropped in the order after 35 games — and no one else on the roster seems like a natural fit. (Flagging prospect Ian Happ occupied the leadoff spot for Friday’s game and went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.)
The Cubs split with Fowler was an amicable one. Fowler wanted to get paid (and did) and the Cubs thought they had enough depth to replace him. Fowler hasn’t been great shakes with the Cards either. His slash line of .230/.317/.431 with seven homers, 19 RBI and 28 runs coming into Friday’s game isn’t better than what the Cubs have gotten from the leadoff spot (.210/.315/.407 with 10 homers, 25 RBI and 27 runs).
Still Fowler’s home run on Friday was more than just a throwback to Fowler’s two productive seasons in that role for the Cubs. It was also a reminder of the type of production they’ll need to pursue before the trade deadline if they’re going to make a serious run at defending the ring that Fowler is taking back to St. Louis.
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