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Cubs’ Matt Garza, Carlos Pena are keepers

MartPrado Braves right is safe first fielding miscue by Cubs' Matt Garzleft first inning Wrigley Field Thursday August 25 2011

Martin Prado of the Braves, right, is safe at first on a fielding miscue by the Cubs' Matt Garza, left, in the first inning at Wrigley Field Thursday, August 25, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2011 10:40AM

Whether Carlos Pena is back at first base for the Cubs next season won’t have nearly the impact as who joins Matt Garza in the starting rotation under the next general manager and/or manager.

Neither could keep the Cubs from losing 8-3 to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday and consequently losing a series for only the second time this month.

‘‘It is what it is, man,’’ said Garza, who struggled with command at times and committed one of the Cubs’ four errors.

Three of the six runs he allowed were unearned.

But Garza’s continued presence at the front end of the rotation, along with returning veteran Ryan Dempster, looks critical to any turnaround the Cubs might hope to make any time soon.

And when the Cubs refused to trade Pena to the New York Yankees this week after the Yankees were granted a waiver claim on the lefty slugger, it may have offered at least some insight into the Rickettses’ vision of the ‘‘culture change’’ they want to achieve.

‘‘I was pleasantly surprised,’’ Pena said of the Cubs’ move to pull him back off waivers, given the uncertainty since the club announced the firing of former GM Jim Hendry.

‘‘[Interim GM Randy Bush] told me he had no intentions of trading me and that he thought I could be a very important part of the future here. I expressed the same, that I was very grateful for the fact that I’m here.

‘‘It means the world to me to wear the uniform. And regardless of the difficulties that we’ve gone through this year, I still have an optimistic view, and I look forward to good things. You’re going to have to beat that mentality out of me because that’s the way I think.’’

Pena and center fielder Marlon Byrd have been among the most outspoken leaders on the team pushing for a more positive, productive team vibe. Whether it’s taking root or not, the team won’t go anywhere next year without better starting pitching.

Then again, maybe there’s some overlap in those two things, considering what third starter Randy Wells attributed his last couple of strong outings to.

‘‘It took a good kick in the butt from a teammate to remind me of the right mind-set to go out there and pitch and make things happen,’’ Wells — who wouldn’t identify the teammate — said after beating the Braves on Wednesday night in his best start of the year. ‘‘Ever since that day, I’ve felt confidence and been throwing the ball really well.’’

Said manager Mike Quade of his clubhouse veterans: ‘‘A lot of what happens here comes from that group, not Q saying this or [pitching coach Mark Riggins] saying that. And that’s good.’’

NOTES: Alfonso Soriano, who said his right forearm was fine after being hit by a pitch Wednesday night, got Thursday off to ‘‘get him ready for Milwaukee,’’ Quade said.

Aramis Ramirez extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a double in the eighth inning.

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