MLB

Cardinals-Cubs preview

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs could be without their offensive catalyst as they enter another big National League Central series this week.

Leadoff batter and outfielder Dexter Fowler missed Sunday's series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates with a sore right hamstring, hurt in the first inning of Saturday's 4-3 victory.

Cubs brass were trying to determine if Fowler would be bound for the disabled list.

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"We haven't decided anything yet," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We're going to sleep on it tonight and see how he feels when he comes back in tomorrow and then make a determination.

"It would not be good if we had to miss him for a bit, (but) I think we could cover," Maddon added.

Fowler, the Cubs outfielder in 61 games to date, was batting .290 in 64 games, with 35 walks, 19 doubles and 115 total bases. His .398 on-base percentage is second on the team behind Ben Zobrist (.426).

"This first part of the season really took on the tone because of him," said Maddon. "When he's making things happen at the top, the rest of the group seems to follow in order."

For Sunday, at least, the Cubs had Chris Coghlan leading off and playing in left, Jason Heyward moved from right to center while Kris Bryant started his sixth game of the year in right field.

Chicago didn't miss Fowler on Sunday as they hit five home runs and pounded out 14 hits in a 10-5 victory over Pittsburgh that completed a three-game series sweep and pushed the Pirates 15 games in back of the first-place Cubs.

The Cubs continue a run of Central opposition on Monday, opening a three-game home series against the second-place St. Louis Cardinals, a team they already lead by 12 1/2 games after Sunday.

The Cubs are a season-high 27 games over .500. They're also 21-6 against Central foes this season but Maddon isn't making a big deal of it.

"I don't get into all that division stuff," he said. "Just win the game you're playing today and if you win enough of them at the end of the season you're in pretty good shape."

St. Louis, the reigning NL Central champion, meets the Cubs for the seventh time but first at Wrigley Field this season. The teams have split six games so far.

The game features the first big league start for rookie catcher Willson Contreras, who will backstop right-hander John Lackey (7-2, 2.66) against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia (4-6, 3.93 ERA).

"I'm all about letting (Contreras) play, his coaches have done a great job of prepping him," said Maddon. "We'll see how it plays out and we'll continue from there. You'll see him more often, I promise you that."

Contreras hit a home run on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat -- a pinch hit appearance -- on Sunday.

Lackey makes his third start against St. Louis and second this season. He's 1-0 in 2016 against this former club.