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updated: 6/20/2014 9:53 PM

Cubs' focus squarely on the field

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  • Cubs third baseman Mike Olt throws out Pittsburgh Pirates' Russell Martin after fielding Martin's sacrifice bunt during the second inning of a baseball game on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Chicago.

      Cubs third baseman Mike Olt throws out Pittsburgh Pirates' Russell Martin after fielding Martin's sacrifice bunt during the second inning of a baseball game on Friday, June 20, 2014, in Chicago.
    Associated Press

  • Starlin Castro hits a 3-run home run off Pirates starter Charlie Morton during the third inning Friday at Wrigley Field. It was Castro's 11th homer in the Cubs' 71st game, eclipsing his total of 10 in all of 2013.

      Starlin Castro hits a 3-run home run off Pirates starter Charlie Morton during the third inning Friday at Wrigley Field. It was Castro's 11th homer in the Cubs' 71st game, eclipsing his total of 10 in all of 2013.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Cubs don't look like a distracted bunch. They certainly didn't play that way Friday during a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at pleasantly cool Wrigley Field.

"That time of year" is fast approaching for the Cubs, who once again are expected to unload some of their top pitchers, including possibly Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

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But this also is a professional baseball team, and club president Theo Epstein said everybody will just have to deal with all the speculation.

"It's part of the game, unfortunately, these days," Epstein said. "But I think good teams find a way to play well and not get distracted. We'll do everything we can, including not talking about it, to limit the distraction. If we play well, the focus will be on the field, where it should be.

"There's no point in preparing players for things that might happen down the line. It's part of the game. Players come in. Players go out. Teams change throughout the course of the season. With players, we try to limit their distractions as much as possible. The great ones find a way to focus on the things that matter."

The Cubs, who were 14 games under .500 at 20-34 on June 1, improved to 31-40 with Friday's victory. That's still a long way from good, but the team has played fairly well of late.

Two players not going anywhere are shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. In the Cubs' 5-run third inning, Rizzo had a 2-run double, and Castro followed that with a 3-run homer off Charlie Morton. It was Castro's 11th home run of the season and gave him an eight-game hitting streak.

In 161 games last year, Castro hit 10 home runs. He has a team-leading 43 RBI while Rizzo is close behind, with 40.

"It's the nicest I've felt about this team since I've been here," Rizzo said. "Everyone is kind of just expecting to win games now. We always do, but everyone is just starting to come in with that extra swagger."

Cubs players say they'll remain confident and focused despite the speculations that's sure to ramp up between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline.

"We're not there yet, so I don't know," Rizzo said. "Obviously, the last few years it gets everyone down, but you just deal with it. We all want to keep playing better so it's harder for them to break everyone up, but the reality of it is we're 9 or 10 games out of .500 so we've got to get to .500 before we talk about that."

Edwin Jackson, the Cubs' starting pitcher Friday, probably isn't going anywhere. He improved to 5-7 with a 5.12 ERA. He is in the second season of a four-year, $52 million contract, and his performance has been inconsistent.

In Friday's game, Jackson lasted 5 innings as his calves cramped. He allowed all 3 Pirates runs in the fifth, on a pair of walks followed by a 3-run homer off the bat of Jordy Mercer.

"We definitely have a lot of upside," Jackson said. "This last month or so, we've been playing pretty good baseball. It's just showing the things that we're capable of doing. The pitching's been pretty good all year. Our offense is coming around, and our defense is coming around, as well.

"You can't worry about what you can't control. The only thing you can control is going out and getting ready to pitch every fifth day. Everything else is going to happen whether you worry about it or not. We really don't have time to go out on the field and try to get hitters out worried about if we're going to be here or not going to be here."

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