I've dissed Luis Valbuena many times here, so let me praise him.
First, he's singlehandedly responsible for the Cubs' 4-3 win over the Marlins; his ninth-inning home run, his fourth of the season (now second on the team to Anthony Rizzo), gave the Cubs the lead that Carlos Marmol (barely) protected.
I've written here before that if Valbuena could even hit .250 -- with the walks he's been drawing and his surprising power -- he could be a useful everyday player. He's almost there; after Thursday night's game in Miami, Valbuena is hitting .237/.338/.475 with an OPS+ of 123. He also plays good defense -- he's one of the few Cubs who hasn't had a misadventure in the field this year -- and though he might still be better off as a supersub, playing multiple positions, he really isn't a bad everyday third baseman.
Is this real? Valbuena had decent numbers in 2009 with the Indians (.250/.298/.416, 10 home runs in 368 at-bats, OPS+ 90), and he's 27. Maybe he's figured something out and can perform above his previous level. In that case, even if Ian Stewart ever starts hitting and comes back (and Dale Sveum recently said the team is "in no hurry" to recall him), Valbuena will be a valuable member of this team.
The Cubs started off Thursday's game well, with a David DeJesus double leading to a 1-0 first-inning lead. Then Edwin Jackson spent the next two innings coughing up that lead with walks and other bad pitching; for a while, it appeared the impotent Cubs offense would give the stadium that looked nearly empty (maybe 7,000 of the announced 15,394 showed up) a win for the home team.
But Jackson settled down and wound up with the Cubs' 14th quality start of the season. Yes, quality starts yada yada, but Cubs pitchers now have a team ERA of 3.42, fifth in the National League, and that's in spite of the bullpen being awful. The Cubs scratched across a run in the fourth, and Nate Schierholtz tied it in the sixth with a home run off the right-field foul pole, the first home run hit in the new Miami stadium by a Cub. They should have shot off the home-run sculpture for that one, or for Valbuena's, because Marlins hitters aren't doing anything for it. The Marlins have hit just six home runs this season, only one at home (check out this boxscore for the unlikely name of the Marlin who did it). Giancarlo Stanton, putatively the Marlins' best player and the guy they have so far refused to trade, is off to a horrible start; he's hitting .200/.324/.250 with no home runs in 60 at-bats, and Marmol struck him out on a nice-looking slider to end the game.
I still wouldn't re-anoint Marmol the closer. Neither will Dale Sveum:
So at what point will Sveum finally admit Marmol is his closer? Or will he ever? "Nope," he said. "He pitches great when he doesn't know he's the closer." Sveum laughed, adding the Cubs now have a "bigger sample size" to test that theorem.
The Cubs can afford to laugh after winning. Wins haven't come too often in this early season, though I note this:
Looking like 18 of 21 will be decided by 3 runs or less..1950 last time that happened.. and all 21 by 4 runs or less..ties 1908 start— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) April 26, 2013
Not that these Cubs are going to do what the 1908 team did -- that team had precisely the opposite record to the 2013 squad after 21 games, 14-7 -- but I would also like to point out that, as that tweet says, the Cubs have had no 5-run "blowouts", either for or against, so far this season. Nearly four weeks into the season, the Cubs are the only team that has not had a game decided by five runs or more (next fewest: 2, by the White Sox, Royals and Orioles; the most: 12, by the Athletics and Astros). Keeping games close as the Cubs have, will, I believe, eventually result in more wins.
They'll continue their series against the Marlins Friday night, with Scott Feldman facing Wade LeBlanc. Neither of those men has pitched particularly well this season. Perhaps we'll see the Cubs win their first blowout of 2013.