Splitting a series will not cut it in Kirk Gibson’s book.
Gibson, the Diamondbacks manager, insists for his club to stay in contention for the National League West division race, they need to win each series. This usually means taking two of three and by playing .667 baseball, and that percentage should catapult a team to the top of the standings.
By dropping a 5-1 decision to the Mets Sunday afternoon before 32,134 in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks managed to take two from New York but also dropped two. The loss snapped the D-backs’ two game winning streak but they remain 4 and one-half games behind the first place Giants.
With the Dodgers sweeping the Giants over the weekend in San Francisco, the Giants hold a one percentage point over the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks remain four and one-half games behind the Giants.
Arizona finished a 10 game home stand with a 7-3 mark and, according to principals, gained enough momentum to forge ahead.
“Yeah, I’m happy with the record on this home stand but we face a tough road trip,” said manager Kirk Gibson. “After what they did to the Giants, the Dodgers will be flying around their park. We just have to keep pushing.”
It certainly did not help that the Diamondbacks faced the Mets’ R. A. Dickey, the renowned knuckleballer. Despite dropping his last decision before Sunday, Dickey recorded 11 straight wins and five no-decisions dating back to April 18, including back-to-back one hitters against the Rays (June 13) and the Orioles (June 18).
Dickey dazzled the D-backs with his tantalizing knucker, which did not register above 80 to 82 MPH on the radar gun. He quelled an early threat in the second by getting opposing Joe Saunders to pop to short with the bases loaded with two out, and then shut the door the rest of the way.
Through the Diamondbacks managed to push across an unearned run in the sixth, not much offense was generated before or after that frame.
“Sure that pitch is tough and it seems to be all over,” said Chris Young, who struck out three times against Dickey. “Facing a pitch like that, it forces you to expand the strike zone, and that’s something you don’t want to do.”
What made Dickey equally effective is his ability to get the first pitch in for a strike. Plus, his efficiency was another factor. For the game, Dickey threw 111 pitches and had 63 through four innings.
After six quality starts in which he was 2-3 and 3.35 ERA in that span, Saunders gave up two runs in the first and walks in the fifth and sixth which lead to additional Mets runs. By the time Saunders left after seven innings, he was behind 4-1 and the Diamondbacks had no answer to Dickey.
To forge ahead, Mets third baseman David Wright doubled in a run in the first inning and then scored on a double from Scott Hairston. After walking Wright with one out in the fifth, Wright then stole second and scored on Hairston’s single to left.
In the sixth, Saunders walked lead-off hitter Andres Torres, who came around to score on Daniel Murphy’s double. That’s all Dickey needed as the Diamondbacks went quietly in this one.
“We didn’t swing the bats well (Sunday) but had a great home stand,” Young concluded. “Let’s hope this carries through (on the road trip).”
THE ROAD TRIP BEGINS
The Diamondbacks, at .500 (51-51 on the season), now embark on a two critical road trips for most of August, and perhaps the defining moment in their season.
The odyssey begins Monday night in Dodger Stadium when Trevor Cahill (8-9, 3.86) takes on Aaron Harang (7-5, 3.30). Centerfielder Chris Young has the best lifetime average against Harang, 6-for-19, .316.
On Tuesday night, Wade Miley (11-6, 3.11) opposes Chris Capuano (10-6, 3.13) and to wrap up the series Wednesday night, Josh Collmenter (3-2, 4.13) takes to the mound against right-hander Stephen Fife (0-0, 1.46). Fife has never faced the Diamondbacks.
A minor consolation is the fact the D-backs will not face Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw in this series, because Kershaw shut out the Giants 4-0 Sunday and tossed a five hit, complete game.
After an off-day Thursday, it’s on to Philadelphia for three and Pittsburgh for four before returning to Chase Field to face Washington for three.
Then, back on the road for three in St. Louis and three more in Houston.
“We plan to win every series,” said Young. “If we do that, we’re playing above .600 baseball and if we win every series out, we’ll be in the playoffs.”