Fowler's surprise return pays dividends for Cubs

Key offseason decision by 'catalyst' is a big reason for successful season

Fowler's surprise return pays dividends for Cubs

LOS ANGELES -- If Dexter Fowler didn't come back to the Cubs, he might not have been an All-Star. He probably wouldn't have the "Fowler's Howlers" fans in center field backing him. And the Cubs may not have gotten to the postseason without their leadoff man.

"Bringing him back, I don't think we'd be in this situation without him or a number of our guys," Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "To have him back as a huge part of our lineup, obviously, a guy that jump-starts our offense at the top of the order, has been tremendously huge for us."

NLCS Game 3: tonight at 8 ET/7 CT on FS1

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 15 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 16 LAD 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 18 LAD 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 19 CHC 10, LAD 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 20 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 6 Oct. 22 CHC 5, LAD 0 video

Fowler, 30, has contributed more with his glove than at the plate so far this postseason, although he did follow Miguel Montero's pinch-hit grand slam with a homer of his own on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

"He's one of our leaders," Arrieta said. "Obviously, he's got a really big personality. He's got a great smile. He's a great teammate. He keeps us loose in the dugout before, during and after games.

"He's kind of the catalyst to our offense as well. He gets things going for us quickly most nights. Whether he gets on base or not, he puts together a tremendous at-bat. He's just a veteran presence to have in center field. He pretty much patrols the entire outfield for us. Especially playing at Wrigley, there's not many balls that fall in front of him, and he's good enough going with his back to the field, to the infield, to make great plays in the gap. So he does it all."

Statcast: Fowler's two catches

Manager Joe Maddon recalled the offseason conversations with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer about the Cubs' outfield. Fowler had rejected Chicago's qualifying offer last November, and he seemed headed to sign with another team.

"Then we get to camp, and Dexter was still out there," Maddon said.

Jason Heyward had already signed with the Cubs, and they were hoping for good things from Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Maddon was trying to figure out how to share at-bats.

"Baseball has a cruel way of answering its own questions," Maddon said. "[Soler] got banged up, Schwarber's out early [with a season-ending knee injury] and all of a sudden, this guy's really the reason why we were so successful in the first half."

Fowler surprised his teammates by returning to Chicago in late February, and everything fell into place.

"I prayed on it, I prayed on it, and at the end of the day, this is where I wanted to be," Fowler said. "And I came back, and I'm definitely grateful for that."

Fowler discusses his great grabs

The Cubs are, too. He provided the spark in April, batting .347, and now there are T-shirts with Maddon's "You go, we go" message that he says to Fowler before every at-bat.

"It's funny," Fowler said. "Now he says -- he doesn't even have to say ['You go, we go']. Now he goes, 'It's true.' I definitely take pride in it, and I've been a leadoff guy my whole career, so it's funny how that happens. But I definitely take pride in what I do."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.