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.

Why Cubs GM Jed Hoyer thinks a playoff bubble could be in MLB's 'best interest'

Why Cubs GM Jed Hoyer thinks a playoff bubble could be in MLB's 'best interest'

Instituting an MLB “bubble” for the postseason would make sense to Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer.

“The first round this year, you would just travel once,” he said Monday. “But once you get into later rounds and sometimes, you're traveling multiple times a week. And I think what we've learned so far is that travel is a difficult part of this.”

Less than three weeks into the regular season, MLB has dealt with outbreaks on two different teams. The first positive COVID-19 tests in both the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ outbreaks were taken on the road. MLB has already committed to an expanded 16-team postseason. So, the question becomes, if Major League Baseball can make it to the postseason, how can it increase its chances of finishing the playoffs?

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Other leagues have had success with quarantined bubbles. Last week, the NHL announced zero positive COVID-19 tests since its teams reported to the league's two hub cities. 

Both the National Women's Soccer League and Major League Soccer had teams drop out of their tournaments before competition began, due to team outbreaks. But the NWSL completed a month-long tournament without a COVID-19 case in its Utah bubble, and MLS' participating teams have produced all negative tests since July 10. 

The WNBA has not had a positive COVID-19 test since the initial round of testing, as players arrived at the clean site. Last week, the NBA reported its third consecutive batch of weekly tests without a new positive.

"We're only as good as our weakest link," Hoyer said. "And this thing spreads."

Even just this weekend there were examples of players and teams violating health and safety protocols.

Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac  left the team hotel to go out in Chicago during the team’s series against the White Sox.

The A’s and Astros had a benches-clearing brawl after Houston pitcher Humberto Castellanos hit Oakland’s Roman Laureano with a pitch. It was the third time that Laureano had been hit in the series and second time in that game.

From the Astros dugout, hitting coach Alex Cintrón began jawing back and forth with Laureano, until Laureano charged. The benches cleared.

“Frustrations are going to boil over,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “… As a coach, we have to contain our emotions, a little more than probably the players. Players do the best they can, but as coaches we have to stay professional in every aspect.”

Both incidents happened after Major League Baseball tightened health and safety protocols and postponed the Cubs’ weekend series at St. Louis in response to more positive COVID-19 tests from the Cardinals. The Cardinals have played an MLB-low five games due to their coronavirus outbreak. At least 16 St. Louis players and staff members have tested positive.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he believed there was still time for the Cardinals to play enough games to be considered a “credible competitor.” Whether they can fit a whole 60-game schedule in remains in question.

“I think there's going to be real decisions about how to reschedule those games and what to do,” Hoyer said. “But at this point I think that the focus is on making sure that those guys are all healthy, the staff and players, and stopping the spread. And who knows how long it’s going to take.

“I think we all expected to play this weekend, and now, I don't know if they'll be able to play Thursday, Friday or until after the weekend. So, at this point there's no point in speculating (on if the league would shut down a team) because we just don't know when they're going to be able to take the field.”

A few hours later, MLB announced that the Cardinals' Thursday doubleheader against the Tigers had been postponed.

The regular season hurdles continue, even without the kind of back-and forth travel that comes with the playoffs.

“With buses and planes and hotel rooms and smaller club houses, things like that,” Hoyer said of travel, “I think it's that that's been a challenge. And a challenge the league is trying to address, but still a challenge nonetheless. And so I think a bubble situation for the playoffs could be in the best interest to make sure that those games are played and that the right players are on the field deciding it.”

 

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Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”

 

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