Luis Valbuena finally made it to arbitration, receiving a one-year, $930,000 contact from the Cubs this offseason. But the 27 year old realizes that he’s lucky to be in the major leagues, managing just a .219/.310/.340 line (79 OPS+) for the Cubs last season, and in order to stick in the majors, he’s going to have to keep improving. Valbuena has tried to do just that this Winter in the Venezuelan League, managing a .306/.414/.497 line with 15 doubles, 6 homers, 39 RBI, and a 33-34 strikeout to walk ratio in 51 games and 183 at-bats for the Cardenales de Lara, and continuing to come up big for Lara in their run to the Venezuelan Winter League Championship Series.
Venezuelan Winter League Championship Series: Cardenales de Lara 3, Navegantes de Magallanes 0
This game was a pitcher’s duel all the way, but Lara pushed 3 runs across in the 5th inning against Gustavo Chacin and the Navegantes to come away with the win. Chacin had gotten off to a great start, striking out 5 while allowing just 1 hit in 4 innings to begin the game, but Luis Valbuena quickly ended that, slamming a solo homer to put Lara ahead 1-0. A Gabriel Noriega RBI double and a Yangervis Solarte RBI single made the score 3-0 Cardenales. Valbuena is hitting .333 out of the 5-hole for Lara in the VWL Postseason with 3 home runs, seeming to come up huge time and again. Chacin, meanwhile, struck out 6 while walking none but could not get out of the 5th inning. Victor Marte of the St. Louis Cardinals followed him with 2.2 hitless innings, striking out 4 while walking 1, and Magallanes pitching actually struck out 14 in the game, but it would be in a losing effort. Longtime Chunichi Dragons (Japanese Central League) pitcher Maximo Nelson went 5 shutout innings for Lara for the win, followed by 1.2 scoreless frames with 2 strikeouts by Romulo Sanchez, the former Rays minor leaguer (and big leaguer for the Yankees and Pirates), and perfect work by Jose Jimenez, Yoervis Medina, and Victor Moreno over the last 2.1 innings to end it. Other notables in the game included Elvis Andrus, who went 1 for 2 with 2 walks for Magallanes, but Pablo Sandoval behind him didn’t give him any help, going 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts. Ex-big leaguer Eliezer Alonzo (who was once traded for future Rays minor leaguer Matt Parker) also went 2 for 4 for the Navegantes, who actually out-hit Lara 7 to 5 but could not make their hits as timely. This is a best-of-nine series and is going to last quite a while, especially after Lara and Magallanes have split the first two games.