D-backs to be tested on AL West road trip

D-backs to be tested on AL West road trip

D-backs to be tested on AL West road trip
PHOENIX -- The D-backs are on a roll after winning five straight games to finish their recent homestand with a 5-1 mark.

A stagnant offense has begun to hit in the clutch, the rotation has pitched deeper into games and the bullpen has been able to close things out.

Now the real test awaits this week as they take to the road to face two of the best teams in the American League, the Rangers and Angels.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "That's the way I look at it. I'm excited for it."

The trip opens with a three-game series against the Rangers, who have represented the AL in the last two World Series.

"We've been playing a little better lately and it would be nice to keep that momentum going," D-backs outfielder Chris Young said. "Going into Texas you understand what they're going to be featuring -- a pretty strong pitching staff and a good offense as well. If we take care of what we're supposed to do, I think we can match up with anybody. But you have to go in ready to play."

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Young. A Houston native, he will have plenty of friends and family making the trip.

"I've driven by it, but I've never got the chance to stand inside it or anything," Young said of Rangers Ballpark. "I'm excited about it. It's a beautiful ballpark from what I've seen on TV and I'm excited to go there."

It's a ballpark that holds some history for Gibson as well. The visiting team's manager's office is where he told his then-manager Sparky Anderson on Aug. 1, 1995 that he was going to retire immediately. The Tigers had traded veterans David Wells and Mike Henneman and it was clear they were headed into a rebuilding mode.

"I was hurting," said Gibson, who was battling a variety of injuries. "It seemed to me like we were kind of cashing it in and here I was I could barely get out of bed every day. So I wasn't going to stand there and take the opportunity of some young kid if that's the direction they were going. That was fine. I went home."

The D-backs, however, won't be going home from Texas. After visiting the Rangers, they'll be headed to Anaheim to battle the Angels, who after a slow start to the season have begun to play to their potential.

It will be the first time D-backs left-hander Joe Saunders has been back to Angel Stadium since he was dealt by the Angels to Arizona before the 2010 Trade Deadline. As a result of his time there, Saunders knows the challenge the D-backs will face on this trip.

"You're facing two all around great teams," he said. "You're facing great rotations, you're facing great bullpens, you're facing great hitters. Their lineups top to bottom, there are no breaks. It's definitely going to be a challenge for sure, but we're looking forward to it. It makes you bring you're 'A' game. That's what we expect of ourselves and that's what we try to get out of ourselves, our 'A' game."

D-backs right-hander Trevor Cahill pitched for the A's for three years before coming over to Arizona so he, too, is plenty familiar with both teams. Cahill will miss the Rangers, but start in the series opener against the Angels.

"They're just power, power, power," Cahill said of the Rangers. "Anaheim has a good mix, they've got power and speed."

The Rangers lead the Majors in runs scored and their ballpark is a good place to hit, so a key for the D-backs offense will be to not press.

"Texas is very good at scoring runs, our pitchers know that and we know that," D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill said. "But I think we got ourselves in a little bit of trouble earlier this year trying to do too much. So guys know no matter who is out there, just stay within yourself and keep doing the small things. As long as we stay simple, I think you see a much better Diamondback team than when we try and do too much."

One way or the other, the D-backs will return home in a week with a better idea of how they stack up against the best competition.

"They're two of the better, in my mind, teams in the American League, so it's going to be a good test for us," shortstop Willie Bloomquist said. "We're playing on their turf, so it should be a pretty good challenge."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.