Rick Renteria remains upbeat about Cubs’ potential

BY TONI GINNETTI For Sun-Times Media

July 13, 2014 8:48PM

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Updated: July 13, 2014 11:34PM

Rick Renteria insists he was confident about the Cubs’ future even before he got the job as manager last fall.

“Honestly, I thought I could see it even before being hired,” he said. “The strength in the system and the guys coming here, based on everything we’ve seen, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“With attitude and work, we can continue to move forward.”

Arguably, his first four months have been no different than the last three years for the Cubs. The team has struggled to win games and again faces a second half without its top two starters, who were traded away for more ­prospects.

At 40-54 after a 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, Renteria’s Cubs are behind the pace of his predecessor, Dale Sveum (42-51), at the All-Star break last year.

But Renteria has something Sveum didn’t, namely the first of the organization’s prospects arriving and a revitalized optimism in core players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara is the harbinger of hope from the stable of prospects. His first homer, coming on an 0-2 pitch, was more validation of his potential.

But All-Stars Rizzo and Castro have re-emerged as the faces of the team.

“They’re part of an elite class,” Renteria said. “They’ll always be All-Star players. They’ve earned it.”

The first-time honor for Rizzo is especially significant for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, who made his acquisition from the San Diego Padres a priority.

“Overall, the ship’s moving in the right direction,” Rizzo said. “Every game is a learning experience, and every day in the big leagues is. We just have to keep moving on, grinding it out.’’

That is Renteria’s continuing message for a team that counts more on moral victories.

“More than anything [the first half has been about] building their confidence and [stressing] playing as a team,” Renteria said. “It’s maintaining an attitude that grinds and doesn’t let any deficit or [difficult] part of the game affect them.

“That’s what we were hoping to get done, and we have.

“We’ve been doing well as a club. At times we weren’t doing well early. The bullpen was erratic at times, but the starting pitching has been good. We had some bumps, but I don’t think you look at things and say, ‘This is terrible.’

“It’s like anything when you’re developing a team mentality. They’re getting confident in themselves. The biggest thing is that they give us a good effort all the time, and, for the most part, they’ve been doing that every day. All in all, you have to give credit to the players for who they are.”

He finds positives in losses such as Sunday’s, in which the Cubs tried to make a game of it after trailing 10-2 in the seventh inning.

“We put ourselves in a ­position to get close,’’ he said. “We just fell short.’’

Renteria believes he is developing with his players.

“I feel good about where I’m at because you get to know your personnel. There’s nothing like being with them on a daily basis to find out who they are. And hopefully they’re taking on the personality of our coaching staff.”

The second half has been a torturous time for the Cubs the last three seasons after pitching talent was traded away.

That risk remains as the team turns to pitching prospects such as Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, just-acquired Dan Straily or others to fill the rotation void.

Renteria’s mantra will continue to be more about developing a positive attitude.

“There are more opportunities before us,’’ he said of the second half. “You need to understand you’re not playing to get through August and September. You need to keep playing to [develop a] feel that you want to play ­beyond September.’’

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