Say what you want about Carlos Pena's batting average, which is, admittedly, low.
The man can hit baseballs a long, long way.
Wednesday night, he launched one far onto Sheffield Avenue with two men on base -- after Aramis Ramirez had been intentionally walked and a lefthander brought in -- to break a 3-3 tie; Carlos Marmol had a shutdown inning for his 33rd save and the Cubs won another series with a 6-3 victory over the Reds. It was only the second home run to land on the fly on Sheffield hit by a Cub this year -- the other one was also hit by Pena a couple of weeks ago. No Cub has reached Waveland Avenue in 2011.
Pena is now hitting .227/.355/.461 for an .816 OPS -- pretty close to what I hoped he would have coming into this season, when I said he'd be fine if he could replicate his 2008 (.871) or 2009 (.893) OPS years. In 32 games since August 3, Pena is hitting .265/.438/.563 (1.001 OPS) with six home runs and 19 RBI; that's a pretty good month's worth of work and if he can keep up that pace for the rest of the season, his overall numbers will be very, very close to that 2008/2009 level.
Pena plays plus defense and is a team leader. Does that mean I want him back for next season (or beyond)? I'd say it's too early to tell; it depends on who the next GM (and presumably, next manager) will be and what that person will want to do not only with first base, but with the pitching staff (i.e., where to allocate resources). But I think too many people focus solely on the .227 BA and ignore Pena's contributions in other areas.
On another cool but not too chilly night (and we can hardly complain about this kind of weather with what's been soaking the East Coast for the last two weeks), the Cubs fell behind in the first inning after Alfonso Soriano waved at a Joey Votto line drive that got by him for a triple. Ryan Dempster, who had recorded the first two outs of the inning on four pitches, seemed to lose his focus after that; he walked Jay Bruce and then Yonder Alonso singled in a run.
Dempster did settle down and eventually left the game in the seventh, having given up just the one run while in the game. Two more runs scored after he left.
By that time, that tied the game, as the Cubs had taken a 3-1 lead on an Aramis Ramirez two-run double in the sixth. Even though James Russell did allow the two tying runs to score in the seventh, it might have been worse if not for an outstanding throw from Reed Johnson to Koyie Hill to nail Edgar Renteria trying to score the third run of that inning after a fly ball caught by Reed in medium center field. That was one of several outstanding defensive plays by the Cubs Wednesday night; DJ LeMahieu made a couple of nice stops playing second base, and Starlin Castro ended the Reds sixth inning by snagging a line drive off the bat of Ramon Hernandez and doubling Alonso off second base; the Reds had the bases loaded with just one out.
Kerry Wood and Marmol both threw well; Wood has had shaky moments this season, but overall I'd say he's pitched well enough to have back next year. Marmol? Who knows? There are times he makes us want to ship him off on the first plane somewhere, anywhere. Wednesday night he was excellent, dispatching the Reds on just 12 pitches (nine strikes).
As for Pena, he still has his troubles against LHP (.143/.266/.362 in 128 PA), but those plate appearances include seven home runs, perhaps the biggest being Wednesday night's. As I said, I'm still undecided about whether I'd want Pena back next year. But he certainly deserves to be in the conversation.
Attendance watch: of the 36,797 announced, maybe 16,000 or so were actually in the house. That brought the season total to 2,804,409, an average of 37,392. The Cubs must average 32,599 over the season's final six dates to break the three million mark. While they may do that with announced ticket sales totals, there may not be nearly that many in the park for some of those game. The Cubs do still have a longshot chance at finishing the home season with a winning record, but they'd have to sweep the entire final homestand to do it.
Enjoy the off day; the season resumes Friday in New York, with the Cubs' final 2011 games against a NL East opponent.