Revamped offense jells in first week

Cubs have outscored their opponents, 35-12, in first five games

Revamped offense jells in first week

PHOENIX -- There's a lot of chatter going on in the Cubs' dugout, and all the talk is paying off.

"When our guys go up to hit, it's contagious," manager Joe Maddon said after Saturday's 4-2 win over the D-backs. "And they talk -- they're talking in the dugout. It's just not happening at home plate, they're talking about grinding out the at-bats. You hear it all the time, but then you have to do it and our guys are doing it right now."

In the first five games of the season, the Cubs have outscored their opponents, 35-12, and they rank second in the National League in on-base percentage with two strikes. They're being patient and making the pitchers work. Maddon got that message to the players during a meeting with about two weeks remaining in Spring Training and it's carried into the season. Several of the players chimed in during the meeting, hitting coach John Mallee said.

"Everybody came together as a unit and talked about approach and how we're going to be selective and try to shorten up with two strikes and try to put balls in play," Mallee said. "It's been great."

"What Joe was saying was be kind of picky," shortstop Addison Russell said of the meeting. "Whenever you're in two-strike position, you have to battle, maybe cut down your swing a little bit. It's just battling with two strikes."

On Saturday night, the Cubs attacked the D-backs' Zack Greinke, sending eight batters to the plate in the first inning. With two on, Anthony Rizzo was behind 1-2 in the count and poked an RBI single up the middle. Kris Bryant followed with an RBI double, and Miguel Montero hit a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.

Bryant's RBI double

"Coming off his first start, we didn't want [Greinke] to settle in," Rizzo said. "We were going to try to be aggressive right out of the chute. We did a good job getting those runs early. He ended up settling in and doing what he does against everyone."

And Rizzo's at-bat?

"It was a good pitch," Rizzo said. "It's one of those things where it found a hole. That's the game of baseball at its finest right there."

Mallee likes the disciplined approach.

"When you bring in Ben Zobrist and [Jason] Heyward and you've got Dexter [Fowler] and Rizzo, they all command the strike zone very well," Mallee said. "They're patient enough to wait for their pitch and that's a good thing."

Zobrist's great game

And the feedback extends to games.

"We just feed off each other," Rizzo said. "We're all up there together. When someone's in, we're all in the box with them. That's the way our team is, and it's a good mix right now."

The Cubs are a little behind in the home run department, hitting five so far this season.

"The power is still there and definitely prevalent," Maddon said. "We're seeing more the line drive, base hit. That's what will help you at the end of the year -- you get to playoff time and you're facing really good pitching, to be able to move the baseball in counts matters as opposed to swinging and missing and coming back to the dugout."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.