Chicago Cubs: Luis Valbuena

Rapid Reaction: Giants 8, Cubs 3

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
10:36
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs lost to the San Francisco Giants 8-3 on Wednesday night. Here's a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Edwin Jackson gave up seven runs in the first three innings as the Giants pulled away early. They scored four runs in the first inning with Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik and Travis Ishikawa racking up the RBIs. The Cubs struck back when Chris Valaika hit his first home run as a Cub, a two-run shot in the second. But three more runs in the third by the Giants, including another RBI by Ishikawa and a two-run home run by Andrew Susac, put the game away. Hunter Pence hit a long ball the next inning. Luis Valbuena went deep in the eighth to complete the scoring.

What it means: There's simply nothing left to say about Jackson that hasn't been said. He lasted only 2⅔ innings, giving up eight hits, two walks and seven runs. His ERA is 6.09, by far the highest in baseball among regular starters. No other pitcher who qualifies for the ERA title has one over 5.00.

Turner for Thursday: Jacob Turner will take over on the mound for the Cubs when they resume play in their suspended game with the Giants at 4:05 p.m. CT on Thursday.

What's next: After the completion of their suspended game Thursday afternoon, the teams will play the series finale later in the night with Travis Wood (7-10, 4.86 ERA) taking on Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 3.14).

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
9:17
PM CT
By Tom Ramstetter | Special to ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. It was the fifth straight win for the Reds and the sixth straight loss for the Cubs.

Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Reds finally got to Cubs starter Dallas Beeler for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Billy Hamilton had the go-ahead hit for the Reds with a two-out triple past center fielder Justin Ruggiano to drive in Zack Cozart from second base. Cozart had lofted a single into right-center, just out of the reach of second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, and moved to second on a sacrifice by pitcher Alfredo Simon.

Skip Schumaker followed Hamilton’s triple with a walk and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce each singled in a run to cap a three-run inning. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when third baseman Ramon Santiago belted a two-out double into the gap in right-center to plate first baseman Brayan Pena from first base. Santiago was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Pena drew a two-out walk ahead of Santiago. Anthony Rizzo tied it in the third with his 20th home run of the season, a towering shot down the line in right on a 2-0 pitch. But Chicago never got another runner as far as second base.

What it means: The Cubs have followed a four-game winning streak with what is now a six-game losing streak and four games to go before the All-Star break.

Beeler’s night: Beeler, a rookie right-hander, held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings, but a three-run fifth inning ended his second major league start. Beeler allowed four earned runs, six hits and walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

Beeler (0-2) made his major league debut June 28 and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

Alcantara’s debut: Hot prospect Alcantara was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game. The 22-year-old infielder/outfielder, who hits from both sides of the plate, started at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday. The Cubs promoted him to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.
Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts at Triple-A.

Renteria tossed: Cubs manager Rick Renteria was thrown out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning by third-base umpire Andy Fletcher for arguing a foul-ball call. It was Renteria’s fifth ejection of the season.

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco’s tapper down the third-base line with two outs, two on and three runs already in was just foul. Third baseman Luis Valbuena fielded the grounder and tagged third, but Fletcher called the ball foul.

The play was not reviewable.

Mesoraco grounded out to Valbuena moments later to end the inning.

Stat of the night: Simon (12-3) retired 13 straight Cubs after Rizzo’s game-tying home run in the third. Simon struck out eight in 6.2 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and one earned run.

What’s next: The Cubs wrap up the five-game series in Cincinnati at 11:35 a.m. CT, hoping to avoid a sweep. Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut for Chicago, and Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA) will take the hill for the Reds.

The Cubs return home for a three-game series leading into the All-Star break beginning Friday.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 2, Red Sox 1

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
10:04
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


BOSTON -– The Chicago Cubs beat the Boston Red Sox 2-1 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Luis Valbuena hit a sacrifice fly to score Anthony Rizzo in the top of the ninth inning with the winning run off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. Rizzo opened the inning with a single and Starlin Castro doubled him to third before Valbuena hit a 3-2 pitch to right. The Red Sox got on the board in the bottom of the fifth as Dustin Pedroia got the third consecutive two-out hit, bringing home Jackie Bradley Jr. But the Cubs quickly tied it on a fielder’s choice by Chris Coghlan, plating Justin Ruggiano, who had doubled to open the top of the sixth inning. Both starting pitchers, Edwin Jackson and Clay Buchholz, were good in the early innings before getting into jams, but both avoided worse damage than the one run each gave up. Jackson went six, giving up six hits and four walks. Hector Rondon earned his second save in as many nights.

Key moment: The Cubs had a chance to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning when manager Rick Renteria pinch hit Junior Lake for outfielder Nate Schierholtz against lefty reliever Andrew Miller with men on first and third and one out in a 1-1 game. Lake struck out four times on Monday, and coming into the game had 86 for the season. He has 88 now after striking out on three pitches and then again on three in the ninth as runners in both innings were stranded at third. Luckily, the Cubs went on to win the game.

What it means: Jackson picked up where Jake Arrieta left off, keeping Boston off the scoreboard until a fifth-inning, two-out hiccup. But he got out of it with only one run crossing the plate and in doing so brought his ERA under 5.00 (4.99). It wasn’t as easy as Arrieta's outing, but the Red Sox really had only the one rally.

Cubs pitchers have limited Boston to one run over the first 18 innings of the series.

Renteria made a curious decision in sending Lake to the plate in a contact situation. Even though a lefty came into the game, Schierholtz might have been the better option. Or even pitcher Travis Wood. His other right-handed choice? Mike Olt. He’s not much better in the contact department.

Bonifacio update: Ailing infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio is rehabbing a strained oblique at the Cubs' spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona. There’s no timetable for his return or when he’ll head out on an assignment in the minor leagues.

What’s next: The Cubs go for the sweep on Wednesday night when Travis Wood (7-6, 4.52) faces Brandon Workman (1-1, 3.27).

Series preview: Cubs at Phillies

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
1:44
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The Cubs (26-38) open a three game series against the Philadelphia Phillies (28-36), starting Friday night.

The series:
Friday: Jake Arrieta (1-1, 2.50) vs. Roberto Hernandez (2-4, 4.35), 6:06 p.m.
Saturday: Edwin Jackson (4-6, 4.70) vs. David Buchanan (1-3, 6.08), 2:05 p.m.
Sunday: Travis Wood (6-5, 4.95) vs A.J. Burnett (3-5, 4.41), 12:35 p.m.

The matchup: Both teams are in the cellar of their respective divisions, with the Phillies owning two more wins and having won three in a row coming into the series. The Cubs have dropped two straight.

The road: It continues to be a struggle away from Wrigley Field as the Cubs dropped three of four in Pittsburgh to begin the road trip. The Cubs' record on the road is now 11-24, while they’re one game over .500 (15-14) at home.

Who’s hot/who’s not: There’s no one hotter in the National League right now than Luis Valbuena. Since May 13 – exactly a month – he leads the league in hitting at .384 as well as on-base percentage (.460). He went 8-for-14 against the Pittsburgh Pirates this week. Chris Coghlan, Nate Schierholtz and Emilio Bonifacio combined to go 3-for-24 against the Pirates. Bonifacio is expected to miss time after injuring his rib cage on a swing in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 0

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
10:53
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs lost 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Andrew McCutchen did the Cubs in again. He was in the middle of two rallies that helped win the game for the home team. He doubled in the fourth inning and came home to score the game’s first run on a Russell Martin hit. Then in the fifth, he doubled home two more runs before being tagged out as he slid past third base. Jordy Mercer added a sacrifice fly to close out the scoring for the Pirates. The Cubs had some chances against starter Edinson Volquez but went 0-for-8 with men in scoring position. Back-to-back strikeouts by Junior Lake and Anthony Rizzo killed a rally in the third inning, then Lake struck out again in the fifth with two more on. Luis Valbuena continued a hot stretch in collecting two more hits, but Jeff Samardzija wasn’t very sharp in giving up nine hits over more than six innings.

Rain delays: The game was delayed 21 minutes before first pitch, then again in the seventh for an hour and 14 minutes. Both starting pitchers already were out of the game before the second delay began.

What it means: The Pirates took down the Cubs’ top two starters, Jason Hammel and Samardzija, combining for 20 hits against them over the past two nights. That might not bode well for their trade value if it keeps up. Most of the damage all week came from McCutchen’s bat. He was 8-for-14 with three home runs and nine RBIs in the series. Valbuena was just as hot but without the power, going 8-for-13 and bringing his batting average to .293 on the season.

Bonifacio leaves: Emilio Bonifacio led off the game but never left the batter’s box, as he went down in pain after hitting a ground ball to the shortstop. The Cubs said it was a rib cage injury and that he’ll be re-evaluated. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney was pulled from the lienup for Class A Kane County, where he was rehabbing a hamstring injury as he prepared to come off the disabled list. He could join the team in Philadelphia if Bonifacio has to miss time, which appears likely.

What’s next: The Cubs open a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night at 6:05 CT, when Jake Arrieta (1-1, 2.50) faces Roberto Hernandez (2-4, 4.35).

On base at rate of .394, Valbuena stays hot

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
1:19
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
PITTSBURGH -- He isn’t the most heralded player on the Chicago Cubs roster, but infielder Luis Valbuena continues to do his job both at the plate and in the field.

[+] EnlargeLuis Valbuena
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

"He's a guy that continues to give you very, very good at-bats," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Luis Valbuena. "Puts the barrel on the ball."

He had three more hits in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates after driving home the winning runs off the bench in Monday's 7-3 win. He’s 6-for-10 through the first three games of the series against the Bucs.

"Nothing different," Valbuena said. "I'm looking for my pitch and being aggressive in the zone."

While teammates Mike Olt and Darwin Barney are struggling, Valbuena is thriving. His batting average stands at .288, and his on-base percentage is through the roof at .394. His best attribute is giving a good at-bat. He sees more than four pitches per plate appearance and will battle a pitcher as well as anyone on the team.

"He’s a guy that continues to give you very, very good at-bats," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Puts the barrel on the ball."

Valbuena might be used as a trade piece over the next couple of months with so many teams looking for left-handed hitting. Or he could just keep doing what he's doing and be a valuable role player in the coming years for the Cubs as they transition jobs to prospects.

And he's still getting better. Last year he was known for providing some power but not much else at the plate. This season he’s more rounded as a hitter. He claims it was simply getting experience that’s helped.

"Now I have more idea what [the pitcher is] going to throw me in the count," Valbuena stated. "I feel real good now."

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 2

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
10:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Pirates jumped all over Cubs starter Jason Hammel with four runs in the first three innings, including an Andrew McCutchen two-run homer in the bottom of the first. The Cubs tied the game in the top of the second on an RBI single by John Baker and a groundout by Darwin Barney. But Pittsburgh came right back. Gregory Polanco earned his first career RBI with a groundout, then Starling Marte drove one home with a single in the third. Hammel lasted only five innings, giving up a season-high 11 hits. Luis Valbuena had three hits for the Cubs.

Key play: Considering the score didn’t change after the third inning, McCutchen’s home run in the first inning was a big one. Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan nearly made a spectacular catch going into the left-field bleachers and getting a glove on the ball, but it popped out for McCutchen’s 10th home run of the season.

Rain delay: The start of the game was delayed an hour and 38 minutes due to violent storms in the area.

What it means: It was obvious from the first batter that Hammel was off his game. The 11 hits given up were the most for him since July 2011. Even the outs were hit hard, and he actually benefited from some poor baserunning by the Pirates. Maybe the rain delay had something to do with it, or maybe he was just due for a bad outing. It was so outside the norm for him this season that he’ll probably just throw it away and move on.

Valbuena on fire: He raised his batting average to .287 and on-base percentage to .394. With Mike Olt struggling, Valbuena will see even more time at third base -- and he deserves it.

Double-A affiliation: The Cubs extended their agreement with Double-A Tennessee to continue as their affiliate for four more years.

What’s next: Jeff Samardzija (2-5, 2.54 ERA) faces Edinson Volquez (3-5, 4.27) in the series finale on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. CT.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7 Pirates 3

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
9:42
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


PITTSBURGH –- The Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run home run in the first inning as the Cubs jumped on starter Francisco Liriano. It was Rizzo’s 13th of the season. Andrew McCutchen responded with a two-run shot of his own in the third inning to tie the game. The Cubs retook the lead on a Darwin Barney RBI double that scored Rizzo in the fourth, but the Pirates tied it again on Josh Harrison’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning. The Cubs finally pulled away as Luis Valbuena hit a pinch-hit two-run double in the sixth followed by RBI hits by Rizzo and Starlin Castro in the seventh. Travis Wood picked up the win, giving up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Rizzo was 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

What it means: Coming into the night Rizzo was just 2-for-17 against Liriano, but he crushed a ball out to right as he’s picked up the pace lately. His two doubles were no cheapies either, as he went to right-center and left-center. With a .284 batting average and 13 home runs, Rizzo should enter into All-Star consideration. He continues to hit left-handed pitching better than ever as evidenced by his work against Liriano.

On the other end of the spectrum is Mike Olt. He struck out looking twice before being pinch hit for by Valbuena, who promptly doubled and added another hit later in the game. Olt looks lost at the plate.

Liriano leaves early: Liriano left the game after warming up in the fourth inning. The Pirates later announced he had “discomfort on his left side.”

Polanco debuts: Pirates phenom Gregory Polanco made his much anticipated major league debut, going 1-for-5 as fans gave him a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He singled to left in his second at-bat, earning his first career base hit. He misplayed a ball in right that was ruled a double for Rizzo.

What’s next: Jason Hammel (6-3, 2.53) takes on Brandon Cumpton (1-2, 6.51) in Game 3 of the series Wednesday night.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 4, Cubs 0

May, 28, 2014
May 28
12:14
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


SAN FRANCISCO -– The Chicago Cubs lost 4-0 to the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Cubs starter Jake Arrieta wasn’t able to field a couple of ground balls hit back up the middle as they got to center field in the first inning and the Giants were able to take advantage. Two runs crossed the plate as Buster Posey hit a sacrifice fly and Michael Morse singled home the second run. The Giants added two more in the fifth. Again, Arrieta wasn’t hit hard, but Posey hit his second sacrifice fly while Pablo Sandoval blooped one in for an RBI hit. Meanwhile, Giants starter Tim Hudson rolled through the Cubs' lineup, giving up six hits and no walks in seven innings of work. The Cubs had two on and one out in the fourth but Luis Valbuena popped out and Welington Castillo struck out to end their lone threat.

What it means: Arrieta should only be displeased with his fielding, not his pitching. Sometimes balls are going to find holes and that’s exactly what happened to him on Tuesday. Yes, he could have used an extra strikeout here or there, but he limited the damage. It didn’t matter because the Cubs got shut out for the sixth time this season.

Parker recalled: Blake Parker threw a clean inning of relief on Tuesday after being recalled from Triple-A Iowa. Reliever Wesley Wright was put on paternity leave for up to three games as his wife is due.

What’s next: The Cubs and Giants play the rubber game of the series Wednesday afternoon when Edwin Jackson (3-4, 4.94) takes on Tim Lincecum (4-3, 4.55)

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Yankees 1

May, 20, 2014
May 20
10:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs handed New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka his first regular-season loss since August 2012 in Japan. Here’s a quick look at how the Cubs prevailed 6-1:

How it happened: The Cubs got to Tanaka as the rains fell in the third and fourth innings. Emilio Bonifacio singled home John Baker -- who had singled to open the third -- for the game’s first run. One inning later, Mike Olt singled home Luis Valbuena for a 2-0 lead. The Yankees cut that in half when Mark Teixeira brought home Brett Gardner with a base hit in the sixth. But the Cubs responded in the bottom of the inning, when Olt plated Valbuena with a sacrifice fly after Valbuena opened the inning with a base hit. Baker followed with a sac fly, as well. Starlin Castro added an RBI single in the seventh, then Olt walked with the bases loaded for his third run driven in on the night. Meanwhile, Cubs starter Jason Hammel was mowing down the Yankees. He went 5 2/3 innings, giving up just four hits and one run while striking out six and collecting the win. The Cubs bullpen finished the deal as five relievers shut down New York. Valbuena was 3-for-3 off Tanaka, while Baker had two hits and that sacrifice fly.

What it means: It was nothing less than stunning to see the Cubs hit Tanaka as hard as they did. Maybe the rain had something to do with it, maybe not. But there is no other way to analyze the game than to say the Cubs had one of their best hitting nights off one of the best pitchers in the game. And players that had struggled against Tanaka last month in New York -- Valbuena, Olt and Baker -- led the way. Hammel outpitched Tanaka and the Cubs gained a lot of confidence at the plate. It might be their best win of the season, considering the opponent on the mound.

Tanaka’s night: He lost in the regular season for the first time in 43 starts, going a season-low six innings. The Cubs tied a season high for any opponent against Tanaka this year, notching eight hits and three earned runs off of him. Valbuena, Olt and Baker were a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts when they faced Tanaka in April. On Tuesday against Tanaka, they were 6-for-7 with one strikeout and three RBIs.

Injury update: Justin Ruggiano continues his rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa as he recovers from a hamstring injury. ... Cubs manager Rick Renteria said pitcher Pedro Strop is progressing from his groin issue.

What’s next: The Cubs look for the two-game sweep when Jeff Samardzija (0-4, 1.62) faces Chase Whitley (0-0, 0.00) at 1:20 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

Rapid Reaction: Cards 4, Cubs 3 (F/12)

May, 14, 2014
May 14
12:16
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


ST. LOUIS –- The Cubs lost 4-3 to the Cardinals in 12 innings on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look:

How it happened: Justin Grimm walked two in the bottom of the 12th inning before Greg Garcia won the game when Grimm hit him with a pitch with the bases loaded. The Cubs tied the game at 3 with two outs in the ninth as Emilio Bonifacio drove in Junior Lake. The Cardinals took their first lead in the sixth inning as relievers Carlos Villanueva and Wesley Wright couldn’t hold a 2-1 advantage. A fielder’s choice by Matt Carpenter and an RBI single by Jhonny Peralta tied and then put St. Louis ahead. Luis Valbuena hit a two-run home run off of Adam Wainwright to open the scoring in the third inning. The Cardinals got one back in the bottom of the inning on an infield hit by Matt Adams, scoring Matt Holliday, who had walked. Peralta fell down running the bases and was eventually tagged out, otherwise St. Louis would have scored more in the third.

Jake Arrieta was taken out after four innings and 82 pitches as he continues to build up arm strength after just three starts this season. He’s thrown very well in two of them -– though he walked five on Tuesday –- as he’s shut down the Cardinals offense twice now.

What it means: Arrieta is progressing as planned. He had five strikeouts; his off-speed stuff was working. You don’t like to see him walk two batters to open an inning after his team takes a 2-0 lead, though. It made for a long third inning. But the results were pretty good for just his third start, and he limited the damage –- with a little help from Peralta’s baserunning issue. Grimm is having issues, there is no doubt about it. As he put it last time he lost a game, “the struggles this month are real.”

Rick Renteria will look smart for inserting Valbuena in the lineup and sitting Mike Olt, but is Valbuena’s home run more important than Olt’s progression? More importantly, Valbuena could have played second base to keep Olt in the lineup. Darwin Barney followed up his three-hit night on Monday by taking the collar on Tuesday, though he did draw a ninth-inning walk. Olt drew a pinch-hit walk in the seventh.

Wood retaliation: Before the game, Renteria was asked if he thought the Cardinals purposely retaliated during Monday’s game after starter Travis Wood plunked two batters in the fifth inning. Wood was beaned to lead off the sixth.

“Those are your words. I didn’t see anything wrong yesterday,” Renteria said with a smile.

What’s next: Game 3 of the four-game series takes place on Wednesday night when Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.45) faces Michael Wacha (2-3, 2.85).

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 5, Cubs 4

May, 4, 2014
May 4
10:40
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

How it happened: The Cardinals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning. Jason Hammel retired the first two batters of the inning, but his two-out walk of Jhonny Peralta proved to be costly. Randal Grichuk roped a triple into the right-center field gap, scoring Peralta, then came around to score when Mark Ellis followed with a double. Hammel was once again burned by a two-out walk in the third when he issued a free pass to Matt Holliday then followed it up with by giving up a run-scoring double by Matt Adams. However, Hammel made Lance Lynn pay for his wild ways as well. Lynn walked two in the fourth and with two down, Hammel came up big, lining a single into right to score two. The Cubs tied it up in the seventh when Luis Valbuena scored from third when reliever Carlos Martinez uncorked a wild pitch past Yadier Molina. Molina made up for letting one slip by him when he delivered a two-out single with the bases loaded against Hector Rondon in the top of the ninth to put the Cardinals up for good.

What it means: Despite winning their first series of the season, the Cubs ended the weekend on a down note, climbing back from a 3-0 deficit only to lose the game late. Rondon pitched in his third straight game, earning the save in the first two victories, but failed to get the job done Sunday. Rondon was a bit wild in the ninth, issuing two walks and had Molina down 1-2 before giving up a ground ball single just out of the reach of shortstop Starlin Castro. Even with the rough outing, Rondon has clearly been the Cubs' best reliever this season and still appears to hold the inside track on the yet to be determined closer's spot.

Up next: The Cubs open up four straight against their crosstown rivals with the first two at Wrigley Field. Team ace Jeff Samardzija starts it off against Jose Quintana and the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.

Valbuena deserves the playing time

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MILWAUKEE -- Some might be wondering why Chicago Cubs infielder Luis Valbuena is getting so much playing time when longer-term starting options like Mike Olt and Junior Lake have seen the field only about as much as he has.

The fact of the matter is Olt and Lake should be evaluated this season -- and that means getting consistent at-bats. But there are enough ancillary reasons to let Valbuena play as well. That might not have been smart thinking at the beginning of this month, but Valbuena, who will get a day off Sunday, has earned it, partly because of what it means for the rest of the lineup.

Valbuena was seeing 4.60 pitches per plate appearance going into Saturday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s by far the highest on the team and the highest in his career to date. By comparison, he averaged about 4.22 pitches per plate appearance over the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeLuis Valbuena
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesLuis Valbuena's patience at the plate has made him a useful cog in the Cubs lineup.
Valbuena has mostly batted second -- or leadoff when Emilio Bonifacio takes a day off -- and that kind of plate patience allows the rest of the lineup a good look at the opposing pitcher and obviously drives up his pitch count. Those are no small things. In fact, it’s the basis of the offensive game plan outlined by Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

"I like the pitcher to throw all his pitches because I want everyone on my team to see what he throws," Valbuena said. "I’m an aggressive hitter, but I want to be careful, too."

That’s actually a great way to describe Valbuena, who’s been known for his pop -- his six spring home runs were tops among all hitters -- but not necessarily the ability to get on base. That’s all changed in the first month of 2014. Due to that plate discipline, Valbuena has already walked 13 times, and his .375 on-base percentage is behind only Bonifacio and Anthony Rizzo on the team.

"It’s been a nice run for him to this point," manager Rick Renteria said.

Not only is Valbuena seeing more pitches -- which helps his teammates -- and getting on base more, which also helps them, he’s also playing some really good defense. In the past week alone, there was a diving stop against the Arizona Diamondbacks and a catch and throw home for a double play against the Brewers. He might not possess the Gold Glove that second baseman Darwin Barney owns, but he’s been more than adequate there or at third base.

"Yeah, they’re happy with what I’m doing right now," Valbuena said when asked about how his bosses feel.

And even though Valbuena doesn’t project as an everyday starter when the Cubs' touted prospects start to make it to the big leagues, there’s no reason he couldn't still have a place on the team. So there’s enough to like about him that he deserves playing time.

And remember, he’s actually not taking it away from anyone who should be getting closer looks. If Bonifacio could be the Cubs' everyday center fielder right now, Valbuena could play every day at second while Olt is at third and Lake is in left. The odd men out are Barney and Ryan Sweeney, who currently plays a lot of center when Bonifacio is at second. That’s the mistake Renteria is making.

In any case, Valbuena has shown a new ability at the plate -- plus he hit his first home run of the season Saturday -- that should earn him even more time on the field.

"I’m just focused, waiting for my pitch," he stated. "If it’s not in the zone, I’m not going to swing at it."

That’s actually in the Cubs manual.

Rapid Reaction: Brewers 5, Cubs 3

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
9:06
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE – The Chicago Cubs lost 5-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Travis Wood didn’t have his best stuff as the Brewers took an early lead for the second night in a row and never looked back. Milwaukee scored one in the first on a sacrifice fly by Aramis Ramirez, added two in the second on a two-run single by Jeff Bianchi, and one more in the fourth on a fielder’s choice. The Cubs scored on home runs: a solo shot by Luis Valbuena in the fourth, his first of the year, and a two-run job by Welington Castillo, his fourth. That came in the eighth. Marco Estrada lasted into the eighth inning for the Brewers and pitched well, giving up four hits, while Wood was tagged for five run in 5.2 innings. Anthony Rizzo is 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series.

What it means: It means the Cubs lost yet another series this month and need a victory Sunday just to avoid the sweep. They’ll have one more chance in Cincinnati on Monday through Wednesday to avoid going the whole month of April without a series win for the first time since 1997. Their record is 7-16.

Segura out: As he prepared to bat in the first inning, Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was hit in the face accidentally by a bat being swung by teammate Ryan Braun. Braun was on the top step of the Milwaukee dugout, swinging his bat back and forth to loosen up, when Segura came up from behind and was hit. He was replaced by Bianchi, who went 2-for-2 in the first two innings of the game with two RBIs.

Arrieta throws: Rehabbing Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta threw two innings for Double-A Tennessee in what should be his final tuneup before being activated from the disabled list. He totaled 44 pitches while giving up two hits and one earned run. The light workload went as scheduled.

What’s next: The Cubs try to avoid the sweep Sunday afternoon when Jason Hammel (3-1, 2.60 ERA) throws against Wily Peralta (3-0, 2.19 ERA).

Olt delivering on power potential

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
6:47
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Mike Olt hit his first home run this year off somebody not named Wandy Rodriguez, setting the tone on a cool Wrigley Field afternoon that did not seem inviting for long balls.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Olt homered in the second inning against the Reds, setting the tone for the Cubs' offense on Saturday.
Darwin Barney and Welington Castillo followed with their own home runs for the Cubs, who entered tied with the San Diego Padres for last in the National League with 10 long balls.

The Cubs parlayed all the power into an 8-4 victory, matching an April 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies for most runs scored in a game this year.

“It’s definitely what we need,” Olt said of an 11-hit afternoon that helped to end a five-game losing streak. “It only takes one game or one at-bat to really get a team going, so hopefully we come in tomorrow and stay focused, and I guess start back where we left off.”

The right-handed hitting Olt showed his power capabilities this spring with five home runs in 19 Cactus League games, a performance that helped him to earn a roster spot. Maintaining that type of production, though, was going to be tough while sharing time at third with the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena.

Olt has started in just half of the team’s 16 games, and the stop-start playing time has shown up in a .212 batting average and .257 on-base percentage. But he has managed to deliver on power potential with three home runs in 33 at-bats. Everybody else with multiple home runs on the Cubs' roster has at least 46 at-bats.

A key component in last year’s trade that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers, Olt continues to show that the deal has a chance to pay huge dividends. After all, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm came to the Cubs, as well.

For Olt, his season could depend on finding consistency in an inconsistent world that has him starting one day and pinch hitting the next.

He followed his productive spring with a home run off Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, in the third game of the season. When the Pirates came to Chicago a week later, Olt did the same thing to Rodriguez. His home run Saturday came against Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani.

Right-handers have been more of an issue. When the Reds switched to right-hander Logan Ondrusek in the sixth inning, Olt struck out. It was his seventh strikeout against right-handers this season, compared with three against lefties.

Until results such as those change, the platoon will continue, regardless of how Valbuena performs. Shoring up defensive miscues will be key, as well. He booted a ground ball that allowed a run to score in the seventh inning and practically compounded the issue when he then threw wildly to first base. He was spared another error when first baseman Anthony Rizzo quickly tracked down the ball.

It cut the Cubs’ lead to just two runs at the time, but the offense rebounded with two more in the bottom of the seventh.

“I definitely shouldn't have thrown it, but that happens,” Olt said.

Miscues like that figured to be remedied with more experience at the big league level. Between his 16 games with the Rangers in 2012, his full year at Triple-A last year and his 14 games with the Cubs this season, he is starting to make more sense of things.

“What I have taken from the last couple of years is learning how to evaluate how other hitters are being approached by the pitcher and pick up certain tendencies,” he said. “I’m paying attention a lot more to the game and understanding it so it will definitely carry over.”

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .287
HRA. Rizzo 30
RBIA. Rizzo 71
RA. Rizzo 81
OPSA. Rizzo .889
ERAT. Wood 4.72
SOJ. Arrieta 135