7/19/2013 10:10 P.M. ET
Coming off break, Cubs closing in on .500
By Ian McCue / MLB.com
DENVER -- It has been a slow climb, but as they return from the All-Star Break, the Cubs are within sight of the .500 mark.
Since opening the season 18-30, Chicago has gone 24-21 over its last 45 games and taken six of its last nine. Though Matt Garza may soon be out of a Cubs uniform, the team's starting pitching has been among the National League's most consistent with 57 quality starts.
The primary issue, as Cubs manager Dale Sveum pointed out, has come at the plate.
No. 3 hitter Anthony Rizzo has been productive in his first full Major League season with a .241 average, 13 homers and 54 RBIs entering Friday. Behind him, left fielder Alfonso Soriano has been perhaps the Cubs' biggest first-half surprise, hitting .259 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in the cleanup spot.
And while it may look like another rebuilding year for Chicago, Sveum is ready for his club to cross over into the right side of the win-loss column.
"It's important to get back to .500 and above," Sveum said. "We have the starting pitching to be able to do that, if [Starlin] Castro, Rizzo can swing the bats like they're capable of for the second half and Soriano stays hot, you're capable of doing a lot of things like that."
Lake makes Major League debut for Cubs
DENVER -- Junior Lake wore a child-like smile in the clubhouse before Friday night's game, his excitement like that of a kid prepping for his first Little League game.
Lake, an outfielder/third baseman rated the Cubs' No. 9 prospect by MLB.com, made his big league debut Friday in the series opener against the Rockies at Coors Field, tallying a double in his first at-bat from the sixth spot in the lineup. Lake manned center field, a spot he said he was comfortable in despite starting most games with Triple-A Iowa at third base.
Lake's big league stay is seen as a temporary fix for injured outfielder David DeJesus, who has been out since June 14 with a right shoulder sprain.
"It's just a matter of what the situation or game is asking me to do at the time," Lake, 23, said through a translator before Friday's game. "It's not really focusing on if I'm going to be an outfielder here in the future or not; I know that's what I'm being called upon to do at the moment. I'm just going to take that role and do the best I can with it."
In his first year at the Triple-A level, Lake was hitting .295 with 46 hits -- 16 for extra bases -- four homers and 18 RBIs. He also showed plenty of speed, with 14 stolen bases in 40 games.
Lake was looking forward to playing alongside his friend and former teammate on the 2007 Dominican League team, Starlin Castro. The Cubs' everyday shortstop and Lake shared the infield on that team, with Lake at third base.
"It makes me happy, makes me comfortable," Lake said. "I've played with him before, and it doesn't really matter the position that I'm playing, as long as I get to play here at this level with him. It's something that I definitely cherish and will enjoy."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he expected Lake to be an everyday player until DeJesus returns, hoping he could help inject life into a scuffling offense.
"Obviously he was hurt at the beginning with the broken rib and everything," Sveum said. "But he came back and he was hot right away, and, like I said, watching him from all the reports that he's making a change; he's getting more patient at the plate.
"Obviously this comes with development; that's why you play [Class] A ball, Double-A, Triple-A, and then hopefully you're ready for the big leagues with those kinds of tools."
Top Draft pick wins Golden Spikes Award
DENVER -- He still has not stepped into a Cubs uniform, but top Draft pick Kris Bryant is already collecting awards.
Bryant, selected second overall in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, won the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award on Friday as the nation's best amateur player.
The former University of San Diego star and consensus first-team All-American cashed in with a $6.7 million signing bonus when he signed with the Cubs a week ago. Bryant is expected to start playing for the club's short-season Class A affiliate in Boise, Idaho, soon.
Bryant, a third baseman, led the country in several offensive categories in his final collegiate season and was the first infielder to take the award since 2005.
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.