Noise? What noise? Cubs play with passion and focus in 10-4 victory against Pirates

Second strong outing since break clinches Cubs’ first series win since June 9.

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Cubs shortstop Javy Baez

Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez (9) makes a play on Pittsburgh Pirates’ Kevin Newman (27) to start a double play to end the game during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July, 13, 2019, in Chicago.

David Banks/AP

After a first half seemingly filled with questions, speculation and doubt, the Cubs have set the right tone to open the second half.

The obvious signs were all there in a 10-4 victory Saturday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. The offense scored seven runs in the first inning and Jon Lester chalked up another quality start.

But it was the littler things that stood out even more, such as drawing six walks or Jason Heyward’s laying out for a catch with a 7-0 lead — even though he came up short.

Those are the types of ingredients that will help separate the Cubs from the crowded National League Central pack during the second half.

“It was hot out there and we came out ready to play,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just sensing from the guys, the looks on their face, it’s right here. . . . There were a lot of good indicators today.”

Along with Friday’s victory, the Cubs have opened the second half by outscoring the Pirates 14-7 and have clinched their first series win since June 9.

Questions about the trade deadline and Maddon’s future with the organization surrounded the Cubs going into the All-Star break, but the team isn’t showing any of that tension in this opening series.

Maddon is aware of the noise, as he called it, but he’s making sure not to add additional pressure as the second half kicks off.

“To create more gravity about a moment, I don’t think that necessarily ever works,” he said. “I would prefer that we continue with the same attitude we’ve had over the last several years. It’s been pretty successful.”

Having Lester on the mound certainly helped. Maddon said he has been “exemplifying leadership” at a new level, and the Cubs could always use that sort of steady hand moving forward.

Lester threw 6⅔ innings and gave up three runs on eight hits. He struck out six and allowed two solo home runs.

He also turned heads with a two-run double in the first inning and a solo home run in the third inning — the third homer of his career.

“The break came at a good time for us,” Lester said. “We know what’s ahead. We know the end of this month can be tough. We have to focus on the now. We can’t worry about where we’re at in the standings or anything like that.”

That mindset was readily apparent in the second inning when Heyward dove to his right to catch a shallow fly ball off the bat of Jose Osuna. Heyward didn’t make the play, but showing that determination with a 7-0 lead speaks to the Cubs’ focus.

Kyle Schwarber dove to his right for a catch in the seventh inning and appeared to make the play. The umpires ruled it a hit and then upheld the call after review.

Javy Baez, no stranger to dazzling plays, had undoubtedly one of the niftiest plays of the season by diving for a ground ball, then flipping it from his glove to kick off a 6-4-3 double play that ended the game.

Taken together, the Cubs looked like a team playing with passion and focus.

“We’re all rested,” Schwarber said. “We’re all ready to go and take off in this second half. We all know the challenges ahead of us, especially rolling into the second half and how close everything is right now. For all of us in general that we’re all ready to go and really focused.”

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