It's only four games into his big-league tenure, but it's increasingly looking like it will be very difficult to send Junior Lake back to Triple-A. That's especially true if Alfonso Soriano is traded to the Yankees; that's the latest rumor, which you can discuss in this thread.
Lake had four hits Monday, including two sweet-looking bunts and his first major-league home run, as the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks 4-2. The day Lake had was big news enough in itself, but that's also just the second game the Cubs have won in Arizona in their last eight.
Look at what Junior Lake has accomplished in his so-far brief MLB career:
Junior Lake has 9 H in 1st 4 career Gs, most by #Cubs player since Pafko in 1943. Also 1st w/4 H in 1st 4 ML games since Steve Lake, '83— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 23, 2013
Pretty impressive company, Andy Pafko. Pafko, who was in a September callup with the Cubs in 1943, finished that year going 22-for-58 and hitting .379/.400/.431; two years later he finished fourth in MVP voting and helped lead the Cubs to the World Series.
That's a little too much to ask of Lake, but he's certainly made an impression in a very small sample size. Obviously, he's still a work in progress in center field, but if Soriano is in fact traded, he could wind up playing left field instead, when David DeJesus returns.
Chris Rusin, summoned for the second time this month from Iowa to make a traded-pitcher-replacement start, played the role of Matt Garza well. He breezed through five innings, then got in trouble in the sixth with the Cubs leading 3-0 on Lake's two-run homer and a solo shot by Dioner Navarro. Blake Parker relieved with two runners on base; both of them scored, but Parker got out of the inning with the Cubs still leading.
The rest of the bullpen did nice work, particularly Pedro Strop, who's establishing himself with the Cubs as the solid setup man he was with the Orioles in 2012. He was the victim of yet another Angel Hernandez bad call; with two out, Paul Goldschmidt was thrown out by Navarro trying to steal second base. Unfortunately, Hernandez was out of position to make the call and ruled Goldschmidt safe. Replays showed Goldschmidt was definitely tagged by Darwin Barney before his foot got to the base, and it wasn't particularly close.
I'm hoping someone reviewing all these bad calls by Hernandez can have some effect after this season is over, specifically, to remove Hernandez as an umpire. He's just bad.
Strop, though, got out of the inning by striking out Miguel Montero; in a way, that helped out the Cubs and Kevin Gregg, who faced the 6-7-8 hitters in the D'backs lineup. Gregg got three groundouts sandwiched around a Didi Gregorius single to end it for his 19th save. Will Gregg follow Soriano out the door?
Props also to Starlin Castro, whose two hits brought his BA to .249; since Castro's enforced day off in Milwaukee, he's hitting .316/.350/.484 in 95 at-bats with five doubles, a triple, three home runs and only 14 strikeouts.
And more props: Cole Gillespie made two outstanding catches in right field in his first start as a Cub. One of them was made sliding into a low wall near the RF corner; the other, with Cody Ross running on a hit-and-run, started a double play. Monday's game was the first that Gillespie had ever played at Chase Field.
Regarding the Garza trade: I repeat that I like what the Cubs got from the Rangers, and though Garza was a reasonable extension candidate, it seemed clear that he and the Cubs couldn't come to an agreement. Soriano, though a hot hitter right now, is streaky and could go cold at any time; maybe now is the right time to deal him. Same with Gregg. It is instructive, though, to read Jeff Samardzija's comments on the Garza deal:
"I definitely don't want to see all my boys traded, that's for sure," he said that day. "That wouldn't be the coolest thing in the world, especially when we feel we're not too far away from being a pretty darn good team." But before Monday's game against the Diamondbacks, Samardzija said he understood the decision. "Garza was going to be a free agent," he said. "Obviously if a deal didn't get done (he'd be gone). I think any team in that situation would do the same thing. You have to understand reality. We're (16 games) back, and to trade a guy you don't have protection over anymore kind of makes sense."
This is how I feel, too. The Cubs don't seem all that far from being "a pretty darn good team". If they make more deals... well, it's clear that they might not be for the last two months of the season, though I'd hope they wouldn't suffer through an 18-43 August and September like they did last year. Maybe they can do what the Brewers did in 2012: after trading Zack Greinke, their best pitcher, on July 27, 2012, Milwaukee went 38-25 the rest of the way (the Brewers were only 4½ games ahead of the Cubs on the day of that deal). Or like the 2012 Phillies, who shipped off two of their starting outfielders (Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino) on July 31 -- when they were just 2½ games better than the Cubs -- and then found themselves in wild-card contention by going 35-24 the rest of the season. Both those teams faded and finished seven games behind the second wild card Cardinals, but were in contention until the season's final weekend.
Please note, I am certainly not expecting the Cubs to do that after making a trade like the Garza deal, or any other deals they might make, only pointing out the unusual circumstance of two sellers suddenly playing better baseball after similar deals.
Here's hoping some of those deals make that "pretty darn good team" come to fruition sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, the Cubs are 2-2 on a road trip to the West Coast, a place where they won only one road game a year ago. They'll try it again against the D'backs tonight in a matchup of All-Star pitchers: Travis Wood vs. Patrick Corbin.