Cubs

The eternal optimism of Carlos Pena

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The eternal optimism of Carlos Pena

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 9:58 p.m. Updated: 11:44 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Box score
VIDEO: Dempster gushes over Pena
VIDEO: Quade finds Pena clutch vs. LHP
VIDEO: Johnson describes rocket throw home

As a young boy in the Dominican Republic, Carlos Pena would run underneath the stands at Quisqueya, and be blown away when he got out of the darkness and saw the entire stadium lit up. Some 25 years later, he had the same experience at Clark and Addison.

I walk up the ramp and you see that light at the end of the tunnel, Pena said in April. You come up and its like the gates of heaven have opened when you see Wrigley Field at the end.

Tampa Bay people told the Cubs that youre going to think this is an act, until you realize that Pena is like this all the time.

This season hasnt gone as planned another fifth-place finish, a general manager fired, empty green seats but Pena has been just about what the Cubs hoped hed be on the field and in the clubhouse.

At times, Pena sounds delusional. But hes the eternal optimist. Thats why it wouldnt be surprising if he was your starting first baseman in 2012.

Pena began Wednesday hitting .135 against lefties, and .155 with runners in scoring position. So when the Reds intentionally walked Aramis Ramirez to get to Pena in the eighth inning of a tie game, he wasnt focused on the negatives.

Pena smashed the first pitch he saw from lefty Bill Bray an 85 mph changeup onto Sheffield Avenue for a three-run homer that lifted the Cubs to a 6-3 victory at Wrigley Field. The Cubs (62-81) have six home games left before what promises to be a wild winter.

I keep on saying that I wish the season was longer, Pena said. I make sure that I really soak it all in (and) really take advantage of every single second that I have (with) my teammates, with this ballclub, with this uniform at Wrigley.

Pena would be in the minority on that one the citys already checked out and looking forward to the Bears season. But hes been exactly as advertised, the good and the bad: .227 average, 26 home runs, 72 RBI, .355 on-base percentage, Gold Glove defense.

Hes got a crazy amount of picks, said Ryan Dempster, who gave up three runs in six innings and got a no-decision. Hes been unbelievable over there. (Its) not just what he does with the bat, but what he does with his glove, the energy he brings every day. Hes been a huge contributor for us and a great teammate.

Theres not a bad word to say about him. Thats the truth.

Everyone assumed Pena was a mercenary, a one-year rental. But the Cubs held onto him at the trade deadline, and pulled him back when the Yankees made a waiver claim last month. So that the next general manager would have the option of re-signing him.

Penas Zen philosophy didnt guide him to a pennant race in New York, and it will probably resonate with ownership. While everyone else wonders what chairman Tom Ricketts is up to, Pena sees another light at the end of the tunnel. Believe it or not.

I understand the hunger, Pena said. I also see the desire (to) really give this city what it deserves. I know that everyone longs to see the Cubs win. (This) organization has an extreme desire to actually bring a championship here. As far as it may look at times, I see it coming. I really do.

Cubs etc.

Darwin Barney missed Wednesdays game to be with his wife as she gives birth to their second child. Hes expected to rejoin the team this weekend in New York. Starlin Castro has reached base safely in 21 straight games. The 21-year-old shortstop leads the National League with 182 hits and is on pace to finish with 206. The Cubs and Pabst Brewing Co. announced that Old Style which has been served at Wrigley Field since 1950 will be back for the next two seasons.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.