ST. LOUIS -- Despite sagging ratings this season, “The Lake Show” hasn’t been canceled just yet. Chicago Cubs outfielder Junior Lake had a career night Monday, driving in six runs on a homer and two doubles to help his team, and pitcher Travis Wood, to a 17-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He’s electric for sure,” Wood (3-4) said after the blowout. “When he’s on he’s on. He has tremendous pop off the bat. It’s nice to see it come out.”
The problem is that Lake hasn’t been on enough through the first six weeks of the season. His batting average jumped over the .250 mark with a three-hit night Monday, so maybe it’s coming. But between an amazingly awful strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.75) and far too many defensive lapses, some Cubs fans are starting to lose patience with Lake. Teammates and his manager have his back, though.
“Does it have something to do with his youth?” manager Rick Renteria asked. “Yes. It’s the anxiousness and desire to do well.”
The maddening thing about Lake is that there is some nuance to his game. He often looks as if he’s swinging for the fences on every pitch, but then he’ll lay down a bunt or play the team game. Lake’s first at-bat Monday might have been his best. After Emilio Bonifacio doubled to lead off for the Cubs, Lake got down 0-2 and a strikeout seemed imminent. But he worked it to 2-2 before grounding a ball to the second baseman to get Bonifacio over to third, who then scored on a passed ball. That kind of small ball is exactly what his manager and coaches have been preaching.
“Situational hitting today took a step up,” Renteria said.
And Lake set the tone for it. He followed that up with a three-run home run in the next inning, then an RBI double in the fourth. He came up again in the ninth, with the game easily in hand, and instead of swinging for a home run, Lake took a sinker down the right-field line for a two-run double.
“When he gets the ball up in the hitting zone he can do some damage,” Renteria said about Lake's home run.
But the ninth-inning hit wasn’t up in the zone -- Lake took what the pitcher gave him. He looked like a different hitter Monday, and was asked if it had been his best game of the season.
“I think so, yeah,” he responded. “I’m trying to stay positive every day.”
At some point the Cubs will need to deal with Lake's defense. A converted infielder, he’s seemingly making only small strides in the outfield. He saw a ball get under his glove and to the wall Monday -- there’s that anxiousness Renteria referenced -- and he’s more than once thrown to the wrong base.
“I’m working on my defense every day,” Lake said before the game.
But this is the big leagues and managers can take only so much. The good news is that the Cubs aren’t rushing to try the next guy out there. They don’t have anyone ready anyway -- they’re thin as it is in the outfield, so Lake should have every chance to repeat games like Monday at the plate while improving on defense.
“I’m working hard for that,” he said. “I want to be consistent.”