Valbuena feels like a rookie all over again with Cubs


Valbuena feels like a rookie all over again with Cubs

By Jose M. Romero

PHOENIX Luis Valbuena knows he has been given another opportunity to be in the major leagues, and hes grateful for it.

Valbuena, the Cubs everyday third baseman for nine days now after he was in the starting lineup Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, is determined to make the most of his chance.

Its another chance that has come my way and I cant pass it up, Valbuena said in Spanish.

Valbuena, once a top Seattle Mariners prospect who was paired with Asdrubal Cabrera as the next generation of Cleveland Indians middle infielders only three seasons ago, fell out of favor and ended up in the minors for most of 2011. He was then purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays, but didnt make their 2012 Opening Day roster.

The Cubs acquired Valbuena by claiming him off waivers April 4, but Valbuena was sent down to Iowa a few days into the season. He hit .303 with 26 extra-base hits, 38 runs scored and had 31 RBI over 58 games, and got the call-up when Ian Stewart was placed on the disabled list with left wrist soreness.

While his .231 batting average with the Cubs going into Saturdays game might not show it, Valbuena has made an impression on his manager, Dale Sveum.

Hes been pretty impressive. Gives a great at-bat every time. Played a great third base, Sveum said. Hes a major-league player, theres no question about it. The bat speed he has. The at-bats he gives you. The at-bats hes had against left-handed pitching.

Consistency is the key to success in the majors, Valbuena said.

If you can stay consistent, you can have a long career, he said. When bad things happen, you have to be strong enough in your mind to overcome them.

For Valbuena, the business of baseball means hes happy to have a job. Hes only 26 and has already played in all or parts of five major-league seasons.

Im glad a team wants me and likes my game, and Im just up here with another team trying to do well and show them (the Cubs) that they can count on me, Valbuena said.

Valbuena hopes he can be a Cub for a while, and although hes a veteran, being around players with more experience like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol makes him feel brand new.

I feel like a rookie, Valbuena said. I learn from those guys because theyve been here a while.

Valbuena is versatile enough to play second base and shortstop, and his left-handed bat with a little pop gives Sveums lineup a different look.

I think we stole something there, Sveum said. Thats a pretty huge pickup for us, to get a left-handed guy that can drive the ball out of the ballpark and catch the ball at multiple positions. That was a heck of a pickup.

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

'Season-defining win'? Cubs are here for it

Smiling came easy for Anthony Rizzo as stood at his locker and fielded questions in a robin-egg blue T-shirt that read: "positive vibes."

This was roughly a half-hour after he went through the high-five line telling all his teammates the 12-11 victory was a "season-defining win" for the Cubs.

Who knows if it will really be that big of a "W" for this ballclub in the midst of what has been an up-and-down season to this point, but there has certainly been no shortage of positive vibes around the clubhouse lately.

One thing's for certain: The Cubs will wake up Thursday morning in sole possession of first place again as the Cardinals lost to the Brewers in a rain-shortened game in St. Louis.

Yu Darvish and the Cubs bullpen squandered a 6-2 lead and then a 10-9 lead. Yet the offense picked up the slack, smacking 14 hits, including Kris Bryant's game-winning two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"We haven't won a game like that really all year, I don't think," Rizzo said. "They scored 9 runs in the fifth to seventh innings. Teams don't really win when that happens. Just a good, hard-fought, never-quit win."

Rizzo is right: The Cubs haven't won a game in which they allowed at least 11 runs since Sept. 2, 2017 when they beat the Braves 14-12.

The Cubs have claimed 14 of 17 games at home since the All-Star Break and are now 43-19 at Wrigley Field this season - a winning percentage approaching .700 to combat the .390 winning percentage on the road.

So is it a season-defining victory?

"That's what Rizz told me," Bryant said. "We were high-fiving there and Rizz told me this is a season-defining win. I mean, I can't disagree with him. It's one of those games where you don't feel like you're gonna win just because you take a lead and then you're giving it back, but we came out on top. 

"Definitely some good momentum. We're playing good at home here, obviously and just gotta roll with the records at home and on the road."

Early on, it looked to be a night where the Cubs would cruise to victory behind Darvish, who came into the game red-hot and had settled into a rhythm after serving up a two-run shot to the third hitter of the game.

But that wasn't the case, as Darvish served up four homers overall and Derek Holland and Tyler Chatwood combined to allow 4 runs while notching just two outs as the first arms out of the bullpen.

Before the game, Joe Maddon talked again about how he felt like the only way the Cubs would be able to pull away in a tight NL Central race would be if the offense got into a groove and for one day at least, they were certainly firing on all cylinders.

The only starter who didn't reach base safely at least twice was Kyle Schwarber, and he drove in 3 runs on a homer and a groundout in which he hustled down the line to avoid a double play. Darvish even chipped in with an RBI single in the second inning.

Yes, it was a good win. Yes, the Cubs can go to sleep feeling content and wake up feeling hopeful.

But the only way this becomes a "season-defining win" is if the next five weeks play out like they hope. There have been several wins before Wednesday that seemed like they could propel the Cubs - including the finale in Cincinnati on the last road trip where Bryant once again came through with a clutch late homer. And every time, the team failed to keep the good times rolling for an extended period.

This is all a moot point if the Cubs come out and look flat this weekend or fail to carry any momentum onto the road.

"We'll find out," said Maddon, who has been in this game for nearly four decades. "I mean, I've been involved in those seminal moments and all of a sudden, things switch. 

"I'll tell you one thing though - I liked the method at the plate. Nobody was grinding sawdust; everybody was up there nice and chill and were getting good hacks on good pitches. ... I liked that. That's what we need to get to that point."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone


Bulls Talk Podcast: Rookie survey surprise, Joakim will double-team anyone

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Sean Highkin and Michael Walton join Kevin Anderson.

1:00 The great Chicken Sandwich Wars- believe the hype

5:15 Judging the Bulls missed free throw promotion with Chick-fil-A

9:25 The story of Michael Jordan betting with teammates on the Dunkin Donuts race

11:45 The myth of the special NBA Jams version with Michael Jordan

17:00 How Jordan would have used twitter in the 90’s

18:00 Which player in NBA history would have had the best twitter account

22:20 Are you with Devin Booker or Joakim Noah in the double-team debate?

25:37 On the NBA rookie survey and Cam Reddish winning ‘best career’ vote

Listen to the full podcast here

Bulls Talk Podcast