PHOENIX — Don’t look now, but another NL MVP candidate is emerging.
Jason Kubel, come on down.
Kubel became the seventh player in franchise history to hit three home runs in a game in the Diamondbacks’ 12-3 victory over Houston at Chase Field on Saturday, helping left-hander Wade Miley to his franchise-rookie-record 11th victory.
Kubel has five home runs in the last four games, and he pulled into the NL lead with 70 RBIs after racking up six Saturday.
He also leads the NL with 11 outfield assists.
And he led off the eighth inning with a chance to become the 15th player in modern major league history to hit four homers in a game; Josh Hamilton of Texas did it last on May 8 against Baltimore.
Was he going for it?
Are you kidding?
“Definitely was,” Kubel said with a smile.
“I got caught in trying to hit it as hard as he was throwing it. Maybe if I would have swung a little easier, I would have had it.”
Kubel was an equal-opportunity launcher. His two-run homer into the first row of the left-field seats in the first inning gave the D-backs an early lead, his three-run shot deep into the right-field bleachers was the game-breaker in a five-run fourth, and he finished with a solo shot to left-center in the sixth.
“Just put some good swings on some balls up. The balls I was missing yesterday I wasn’t missing tonight. Just happy with how everything turned out. It was a fun win for us. I definitely could have been a little better. Those three at-bats I was pretty locked in,” Kubel said.
Kubel stepped out of the dugout for a curtain call after his third homer while giving the folks in Kubel’s Korner down the left-field line something to relish. It turned out that Kubel could claim just about every corner of the park Saturday, an approach he takes pride in.
“I do. I’m happy with driving the ball all over the field, which is what I try to do but haven’t always been able to do it. It’s something I work on every day, and it’s paying off,” he said.
Only Hamilton (78) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (77) have more RBIs in all of baseball.
Kubel now has his fourth 20-homer season in his last five, falling short only in an injury-plagued 2011, when he had 12 in his final season in Minnesota.
“I’m hoping to do more. There is a good amount of baseball left. As long as guys keep getting on base for me, hopefully I can keep going,” he said.
He signed a two-year, $15 million contract as a free agent over the winter. Some questioned D-backs general manager Kevin Towers at the time, believing the D-backs were deep enough in the outfield with Justin Upton, Chris Young and Gerardo Parra.
Upton finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2011, but Kubel has become the D-backs’ most valuable offensive weapon, and as far as bang for the buck, he’s become perhaps the best free-agent signing of the offseason. The Los Angeles Angels spent $240 million on Albert Pujols, Detroit spent $214 million on Prince Fielder and St. Louis spent $26 million on Carlos Beltran to replace Pujols.
Beltran was on a short list with Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, the Mets’ David Wright, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto as the top NL MVP candidates at the All-Star break, but Kubel is making some noise.
Kubel has not surprised himself with his production, in part because he identified Chase Field as the perfect antidote to his previous home park, Target Field, which has been one of the least hitter-friendly parks in the majors since it debuted three years ago.
“I definitely like the park a lot. The team. It’s great chemistry here. I clearly liked what they did last year, and I think we have that in us this year and beyond. There are a lot of reasons why I came over here. We have a great team. We have a great chance, and I think we are going to keep it going.”
Miley, meanwhile, struck out a career-high nine and retired the last 10 batters he faced after walking former D-backs catcher Chris Snyder to load the bases in the fourth, when the Astros scored their only run off him in seven innings.
Miley got out of the inning by getting starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel on a weak groundball to third. It was a return to form for Miley, who had given up 15 runs and 24 hits in a total of 16 innings in his three previous starts.