A week of inconsistent performances at the plate made the Chicago Cubs' hold on the second National League wild-card berth less secure.
Manager Joe Maddon detected some of the energy was lacking from his players while president of baseball operations Theo Epstein described recent events as "uninspired and unacceptable" in a radio appearance.
The Cubs delivered their most productive showing at the plate of the season in a 17-8 win over the Pirates on Friday, and they will attempt to keep the offense flowing again Saturday afternoon when they host Pittsburgh in the second game of a three-game series.
Following a 3-5 road trip, the Cubs set a season high for runs and hit five homers Friday to overcome committing three errors. Anthony Rizzo, in his second game as a leadoff hitter, hit a grand slam, and the Cubs scored at least five runs in three different innings after falling behind 4-0 in the opening inning.
"Weirdly, I was expecting that response," Maddon said. "I really thought that under the circumstances, the energy level was great, then to answer as quickly as we did. I want to believe that's going to continue."
Willson Contreras homered twice, and Nicolas Castellanos and rookie Nico Hoerner added two-run homers for Chicago.
Chicago's big day also occurred after Epstein emphasized that jobs were not in danger while talking to reporters before first pitch.
"I think everyone around the team is frustrated because we're not doing what we need to do," Epstein said. "I think we all feel this is a team that should be winning."
The Pirates (65-83) get eight more chances to play spoiler with five games left against the Cubs and three remaining against Milwaukee. They entered with a respectable 13-7 record in their past 20 games but wound up turning in one of their worst pitching performances of the season.
The series opener was the 27th time Pittsburgh allowed double-digit runs, the 11th time since the All-Star break.
"They're a club that feeds on the long ball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the Cubs. "They're built offensively. But you can't just continue to pitch behind in counts at this level on a day when the wind's blowing out. We got what we deserved today."
The Pirates may be without Starling Marte and Josh Bell for Saturday's game. Marte has missed five consecutive starts due to a sprained left wrist, and Bell exited in the fifth inning Friday due to left groin discomfort.
Kyle Hendricks (10-9, 3.33 ERA) will start Saturday for the Cubs, who are 4-0 in his past four starts. He last pitched Monday in San Diego, where he allowed two runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings of a 10-2 victory.
Hendricks is 4-6 with a 3.09 ERA in 15 career starts against Pittsburgh. He has allowed two runs or fewer in seven straight outings against the Pirates, but the Cubs have dropped his last six outings against Pittsburgh due to scoring a combined nine runs in those games.
Rookie James Marvel (0-1, 3.60 ERA) will make his second career start Saturday and hopes it goes as well as his debut. On Sunday, he allowed two runs on four hits in five-plus innings in a 2-0 loss to St. Louis.
Marvel is in Pittsburgh's rotation after dominating at two levels of the minor leagues. He went a combined 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA in 28 starts between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, and his wins were the most in minor league baseball this year.
--Field Level Media