Touch ‘Em All: D-backs sweep Astros

Aug 19, 2012, 9:41 PM | Updated: Aug 20, 2012, 12:43 am

The Diamondbacks welcomed new Houston Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco with an 8-1 drubbing on Sunday, behind a solid performance by Ian Kennedy, who gave up only one run in six innings of work. Aaron Hill continued his torrid pace, smashing two home runs, one of which keyed a five-run fourth inning.

After the Snakes big victory on Saturday — winning 12-4 over the Astros, Houston finally axed Brad Mills, who became the first fired manager in the majors this season. But in his first outing with managerial duties, DeFrancesco did not fare much better, and the MLB worst Astros keep free falling.

Sometimes all it takes is beating up on a bad team to get a season back on the right track.

The Diamondbacks are hoping that is the case, as they capped off their three-game sweep of the lowly Houston Astros over the weekend.

“A ton of energy, a lot of excitement. We know we can do this,” rookie Ryan Wheeler told Fox Sports Arizona after Saturday’s win, which featured his first major league home run. “I know we’re a few games back but there’s no doubt on our whole team that we can come back and make it to the playoffs.”

The sweep put the D-backs three games over .500. The next two series are against two teams, the Marlins and Padres, who are a combined 29 games under .500. The D-backs have a great opportunity to play catch up in the NL West prior to the start of the inter-division matchups late this month and into September.

Game one of this series, on Friday night, featured a pitchers’ duel in which Wade Miley got the best of the Astros lineup to move to 13-8 on the season. The game showcased the team’s ability to win games without hitting a single home run, something the D-backs have struggled with all season. Hot closer J.J. Putz converted his 15th consecutive save. Diamondbacks 3, Astros 1.

The second game of the series, on Saturday, was a massacre at the plate for the D-backs. Arizona scored runs off of all four different Astros pitchers they faced. The team also set a season high with a nine-run fifth inning — the highest scoring inning in team history. Lefty Patrick Corbin won his fourth straight start since coming back to the Majors. Chris Young, who loves hitting at Minute Maid Park, collected four hits including a home run — staying hot in his hometown stadium. Diamondbacks 12, Astros 4.

The final game of this series showcased both Arizona’s bats and pitching. The team jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning off former Diamondback Armando Galarraga. Those would be more than enough runs for Ian Kennedy, who shut down Houston in his best start since July 18 in Cincinnati. Diamondbacks 8, Astros 1.

What It Means

This series sweep over the Astros give the Diamondbacks a fairly realistic shot of being 69-62 heading into their matchup with the Dodgers at the end of this month.

With the Dodgers and Giants playing each other in a three-game series on Monday, and six more times over the remainder of the season, Arizona has a good opportunity to come back and overtake the division lead. In September, the only teams besides the Giants and Dodgers the D-backs play are the Padres, Rockies and Cubs. Meanwhile the Dodgers have 10 games against St. Louis, Washington and Cincinnati, two division leaders and a team in the Cardinals that is right on the cusp of the Wild Card.

The Giants schedule is similar to the Snakes in terms of difficulty and teams they play, so the nine games Arizona and San Francisco play in September will likely decide the NL West.

Series Report Card

Record: A+

The Diamondbacks rained on DeFrancesco’s parade, beating him in his managerial debut on Sunday to sweep an absolutely terrible Astros team over the weekend.

Offense: A+

The D-backs won Friday’s game without hitting a home run — only the tenth time that’s happened all season. Paul Goldschmidt is emerging as the full-on offensive leader of this franchise. Goldy leads the team in batting average, hitting just under .300. He is second on the team with 18 home runs, and ranks third with 65 RBI. He is hitting .351 over the last 20 games to lead the team. One of the Diamondbacks’ biggest successes is getting hits with runners in scoring position on a consistent basis. The team boasts a .270 batting average with RISP, which ranks sixth in all of baseball and is currently second in the NL. Since the All-Star break, the team’s 177 runs ranks six in the majors and third in the NL.

Defense: B+

Arizona played the best defense they have played in a while during this series in Houston. They had one error in the series and their play in the field was very crisp; missing was the sloppy play that has plagued them over the last several series.

Pitching: A-

The Diamondbacks starting pitching staff, especially Ian Kennedy, seems to be getting into a rhythm as the final month of the season draws near. The starting pitching in this series was excellent, as the starters won all three contests.

The bullpen is really starting to shape into form right now. The bullpen has held opponents scoreless over the last six games (13 innings) and is starting to resemble the “slam the door shut” bullpen of the 2011 D-backs.

The team’s pitching as a whole has been good since the All-Star break, as their 3.59 team ERA ranks ninth in the majors.

Managing: A

Two managers entered, one left with a sweep and his job. That man was Kirk Gibson. I’m pleased the team was able to execute against the Astros, otherwise it would be Gibson’s job security we might be talking about now.

Series Awards

Play of the Series:

The fifth inning on Saturday had a plethora of clutch plays to choose from, but I’m going to go in the other direction and pick Gerardo Parra’s diving catch on Sunday as the winner of this award. Diving catches are more rare than runs are, especially in this series.

Player of the Series:

Aaron Hill. He went 7-12 (.583 BA) with three home runs, six runs scored and five RBI in the series.

The “Dikembe Mutombo Finger Wag” award:

Justin Upton. He got the day off Sunday, but was a non-factor in the games on Friday and Saturday. Equal value or not, I’m starting to find myself on the “trade J-Up” bandwagon once this season is over. He’s currently hitting .268.

The Road Ahead

The Diamondbacks return home for a crucial ten-game home stand against the Marlins, Padres and Reds. The Marlins are up first, as the D-backs start a four-game series with Miami on Monday, which concludes in the first ever doubleheader at Chase Field on Wednesday night.

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Touch ‘Em All: D-backs sweep Astros