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Touch ‘Em All: D-backs sweep Athletics

Don’t look now, but here come the Arizona Diamondbacks.

With the weekend sweep of the Oakland Athletics, the D-
backs have now
won a season-high five straight games.

Everything finally seems to be coming together for the
team picked by
many to capture the National League pennant and go to the
World Series.
The offense, which has been consistently inconsistent, is
now one of the
hottest offenses in the league. The starting pitching,
which had been
struggling mightily — outside of Wade Miley, of course —
is now rolling,
winning seven of the last 10 games. The defense has been
exceptional the
last few weeks, and the back end of the bullpen is
performing well, as J.J. Putz
and David Hernandez have found their groove.

Talking to the players in the locker room after the sweep,
I got the feeling
the team is loose and relaxed as they head on the road.
Manager Kirk
Gibson was cracking jokes, and the players seemed as if a
weight had been
removed from their shoulders.

And why wouldn’t they? The D-backs are back at .500 for
the first time
since May 5.

I have said before the D-Backs are out of the race in the
NL West, and for
now at least, I am sticking with that statement. However,
I left the door
open for the team’s wild card chances, and I am glad I
did. The D-backs’
winning ways of late have them only 3.5 games out of a
wild card spot in
the NL.

And just ask the St. Louis Cardinals what you can do from
the wild card
spot.

Looking way down the line, if the D-backs can keep up the
strong play,
their four-game series at Chase Field with the Dodgers
right before the All-
Star break could be huge.

And before I forget, the D-backs could be getting better
really soon, as
shortstop Stephen Drew is looking good in the minor
leagues. Add his bat
to this lineup and it would go from good to scary good
immediately.

If the D-backs can find a way to win one or both of the
next two series,
things will get very exciting at Chase Field.

Series Report Card

Record: A+
The D-backs earned their first series sweep since Opening
Weekend
after taking all three games at home from the Athletics.
Coming into this
series, I heard talk show hosts and analysts wonder if a
sweep was at all
possible this weekend. The D-backs went out and proved
that it was.

Offense: A+
In this series, the D-backs played their best offense of
the season.
The hitting was consistent, with lots of timely hits and
plenty of two-out
RBIs. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the hottest hitters in
all of baseball in the
midst of a career-high 17-game hitting streak.

One cautionary note: Too many runners are being picked off
first base.
Ryan Roberts’ pickoff in the fourth inning on Sunday gave
the D-backs
fifteen pickoffs on the season, the most in the majors.

But of course, there is always more good news. In the
month of June, the
D-backs as a team compiled the best average in all of
baseball —
hitting .302. And the D-backs on-base percentage in June?
Tops in the
league, at .373.

Defense: A+
The D-backs were in the middle of the longest errorless
streak in
franchise history during this series (12 games, 115
innings). However, an
error committed by catcher Henry Blanco at home plate on
Sunday brought
an end to that streak. Still, they’ve been playing
absolutely stellar
defense the last few weeks, and that has definitely been a
catalyst for the
team’s winning ways. The D-backs currently hold a .986
fielding
percentage, good for sixth in the majors.

Pitching: B+
Starter Daniel Hudson failed to make it out of the second
inning on Friday
in what became the shortest start of his career. However,
Josh Collmenter
came in Friday to relieve Hudson, and absolutely shut the
door on the
Athletics, keeping the D-backs in the game and allowing
the team to come
back and eventually win that night. On Saturday, Trevor
Cahill pitched his
second straight outstanding game. On Sunday, Joe Saunders
also pitched
well. Even though the pitchers were facing the notoriously
light-hitting A’s,
the pitchers earn a B+ for the weekend.

Managing: A
After benching Justin Upton, Gibson decided to insert the
right fielder back into the
lineup Friday — and Upton responded. I noted last series
that Gibson’s
style of managing can wear on the players. But now the
players are starting
to buy in and the team seems more and more like a
contender every night.
Gibson said a few weeks ago, when the team was still
dealing with injuries,
they just needed to have consistency in the lineup in
order to start
succeeding. Now that there is consistency, the team is
winning.

Series Awards

Play of the Series 1A:
With two men out, two men on, and the D-backs down 8-6 in
the
bottom of the ninth inning on Friday, Ryan Roberts stepped
into the batter’s
box. Up to this point, the D-backs were 0-for-25 when
trailing after the eighth
inning of a ballgame this season. But that dubious streak
came to an end, as Roberts
hammered a Brian Fuentes pitch over the wall in left
center field, handing
the D-backs the win in dramatic, walk-off fashion.

Play of the Series 1B:
The runner-up for this award, which just barely beat out
Montero’s grand slam for
the 1B spot, was the double play that occurred in the top
of the third inning
on Sunday. Colin Cowgill lined a ball right at Saunders,
who made a great
play to catch the ball, and then turned and threw to first
for a double play.
It was just another example of the stellar defense the D-
backs have been
playing of late.

Player of the Series:
Congrats, Justin Upton. After all the media attention and
drama surrounding his benching last week, the D-backs’
franchise player
answered in a big way this weekend as he went 4-for-11
with three runs
scored and two RBIs. Upton responded to his critics and
answered the
call, which was big for him and the team.

The “Dikembe Mutombo” Finger Wag award:
Unfortunately, this goes to Daniel Hudson. I know players
will have their bad days, but Hudson’s day on Friday was
atrocious. After
the game, Huddy apologized for his outing on Twitter,
going as far to address critical followers, “PS, I don’t
give a (expletive) about your fantasy team. This is real
life.”

Best Moment of the Series:
The best moment of this series was easily Roberts’ walk-
off home run in
the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday. It was the most
electrifying
moment of the season so far for the D-backs, and if you
want to talk about
momentum, this could be the spark that helps Arizona climb
back into postseason contention.

The Road Ahead

The D-backs head on the road for what will be a very tough
six-game
road trip. First, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,
they’ll be
in Texas to face Josh Hamilton and the Rangers. And then
it’s on to Anaheim to take on Albert Pujols and the
Angels. A .500 road trip would be satisfactory. Anything
more than that would be gravy.