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‘Relentless’ Cubs return home after 5-1 start on road

Jake Arrieta belts a two-run homer off Shelby Miller in the second inning of the Cubs' 7-3 win over the Diamondbacks Sunday.

PHOENIX – This is how good a life the Cubs are living these days:

In the first inning of Sunday’s 7-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Anthony Rizzo took a pitch from Shelby Miller, and home plate umpire Jim Wolf rang up Rizzo on strikes. Five pitches later, Rizzo walked.

Talk about relentless.

Of course, Wolf quickly corrected himself after losing count of the strikes on Rizzo.

 

But he may have offered an idea for one of the few ways to slow the Cubs down as they ride a 5-1 opening road trip into Monday’s home opener.

“It’s kind of what you live for, starting a season off like we have and going home to play in front of your home crowd,” Cubs ace Jake Arrieta (2-0) said. “It’s a special feeling.”

On a day Arrieta gave up more earned runs than he had in 15 regular-season starts and said his three off-speed pitches were “just average,” he got through seven strong innings and provided two runs of his own support with a long home run to left-center in the second.

Three days after left fielder Kyle Schwarber suffered a season-ending injury, left fielder Jorge Soler homered and drove in another run on a sacrifice fly. Depth guy Tommy La Stella delivered three hits. Miguel Montero reached base four times.

“It’s all the way up and down our lineup,” Arrieta said. “That’s going to be a theme of our year. “We’re going to be a tough team to face regardless of who you are.”

For the third time in their first six games, the Cubs forced the opponent’s staff to average at least 20 pitches an inning.

“Probably the best way to [describe] what’s going on: relentless,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Fans used to watching the home team at Wrigley the past few year – even last year – might not recognize what’s coming to town this week.

“It’s going to be different,” Maddon said of a lineup heavily influenced by the veteran additions of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. “But I’m sure they’ve been following us on television.”

For anyone who might still be wondering what kind of team (so far) returns home Monday, here’s a quick summary of the first six games since it last played at Wrigley Field:

–It won five of them, outscoring opponents 42-15 during the trip (in the lone loss, the Cubs led with two out in the bottom of the eighth).

–It has averaged 10.2 hits and 5.2 walks per game (the 31 total walks lead the majors).

–It has gotten at least six innings from every starter in all six games (rotation: 5-0, 2.95 ERA); the bullpen was even better: 1.29 ERA in 14 innings.

–And the fielders have committed just two errors (no unearned runs).

“It’s a nice vibe to be riding back home,” Maddon said.

Arrieta – who called the feel of the homer he crushed “like hitting it off the sweet spot on a 7-iron” – gave up eight hits, including a pair of solo home runs, and had men on base in all but one inning. But never trailed.

“Those are games that you don’t have your best stuff, so you just have to find a way to win, keep your team in the game,” said Arrieta, who had a streak of 32 regular-season scoreless innings snapped when Paul Goldschmidt led off the fourth with a homer.

Now they finally get to go home.

“I think the most exciting thing is going to be running out of that dugout with the fans behind us,” catcher David Ross said. “It’s been a little while since we got that great feeling. All I remember was the playoffs last year and how much great support we had at home and the energy that the fans brought.

“If you were a part of this team last year, I think everybody’s looking forward to that.”