McKnight: What Fowler's surge has meant
Everyone loves a leadoff man. When I was a teenager, the Cubs (and White Sox when I was just a tyke) had Lance Johnson popping around the bases.
A little later, Corey Patterson and his Hype Machine set the table. From the top spot in 2002, Patterson carried a .277/.311/.409 line. He found more success when Dusty Baker hit him mostly out of the third and sixth spots in 2003. Patterson likely wasn't headed to the All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular that year, but he slashed a fairly respectable .298/.329/.511 before tearing his knee apart on July 6.
That led to Kenny Lofton -- bona fide terror. It seemed as soon as Lofton was acquired in that absolute fleece-job of a trade, the Cubs were scoring first in every game.
Angel Pagan's career wasn't exactly special after leaving the Cubs, but he was certainly useful. Cubs GM Jim Hendry, however, just couldn't find a spot for him. To turn these grapes slightly less sour, even if Pagan had stayed around, there's little likelihood he would have survived The Purge enacted by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in 2012.
There were others, but Jim Edmonds, Reed Johnson, Kosuke Fukudome, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus all bear mentioning. All of it, even the Brett Jackson Experience of 2012, brings us to Dexter Fowler.
Fowler's Cubs career has been up-and-down, to be sure.
After starting the season strong (.299/.327/.442 in April), he had a dismal three-month stretch, which forced Joe Maddon to slide his erstwhile leadoff man as far down as eighth in the lineup. Then came the all-star break. Since, Fowler has surged.
With an on-base hovering near .450 and plenty of pop to make pitchers worry (. 542 SLG with 5 home runs, 9 doubles and 3 triples) Fowler has provided the presence and punch the Cubs need.
Thanks, but no thanks:
A quick aside here. I get that the Los Angeles Dodgers can do whatever they want. Financially, they have no boundaries. They'll pay nearly $300 million in luxury tax alone this year.
Adding Chase Utley for two prospects with the Phillies paying everything but the $2 million buyout was essentially a write-off. Still, Utley has been terrible this year. His line-drive rates and hard hit percentages will tell you that maybe, just maybe, there's some bad luck keeping a good guy down. But I never thought the Cubs should spend any money or prospects to find out.
First to 15:
Jake Arrieta's marvelous season has been sliced and diced every which way. The sub-1.00 WHIP is magnificent. His strikeouts per nine have been superb.
Perhaps his best stat, however, is reflective of how he keeps the ball in the ballpark. He's top-10 in opponent slugging percentage at .312.
The fun stat of the week, however, was his getting to 15 wins. The last Cubs pitcher to be the first to hit the 15-win mark was Greg Maddux in 1988. I'm not big on the pitcher win, but doesn't that make you smile at least a little?
• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM. He hosts the weekly sports show, The Beat, from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN