Sep 02

September 2 game chat

From the Dodger press notes: “According to Elias, over the last 39 years, only four other Dodgers pitchers (besides Dana Eveland) have pitched at least 8.0 innings while allowing one-or-fewer runs in their first career start with the team: Fernando Valenzuela (April 9, 1981), Dave Stewart (May 19, 1982), Pedro Astacio (July 3, 1992) and Brad Penny (August 3, 2004).”

Also, Stats LLC says Matt Kemp has become the first major-leaguer since 2004 to have at least 30 homers, 30 steals and 10 outfield assists.

Aug 27

Matt Kemp Triple Crown Watch

Batting average
.336 Jose Reyes, Mets
.332 Ryan Braun, Brewers
.324 Joey Votto, Reds
.323 Matt Kemp, Dodgers
.320 Daniel Murphy, Mets

Home runs
31 Matt Kemp, Dodgers
31 Albert Pujols, Cardinals
30 Lance Berkman, Cardinals
30 Mike Stanton, Marlins
30 Dan Uggla, Braves

Runs batted in
102 Prince Fielder, Brewers
100 Matt Kemp, Dodgers
99 Ryan Howard, Phillies
93 Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
87 Ryan Braun, Brewers

On August 1, Kemp was .024 behind in batting average, two behind in home runs and one ahead in RBI.

Aug 27

Dodgers leave it all on the field: Kemp’s 11th-inning homer wins it


Jeff Golden/Getty ImagesAnother throwback uniform day …

Unless someone served him breakfast in bed or left flowers on his doorstep, it’s safe to say that Chad Billingsley’s day got off to a gruesome start.

It was as if he were Charlie Brown raking the same pile of leaves, and then Snoopy was jumping in and exploding them all over the yard, and Charlie Brown would get back to raking. Billingsley allowed three baserunners in the first inning; none scored. He allowed runners to reach second and third with none out in the second inning; none scored.

Then in the third, Mark Ellis doubled, Carlos Gonzalez (4 for 6) singled and Troy Tulowitzki homered, and it was Billingsley who was getting raked.

Billingsley was on the verge of leaving the game as early as the fourth inning, when he was already approaching 100 pitches and falling even further behind, 4-0, on an unearned run driven home by Gonzalez. Somehow, on the hottest day of the year at Dodger Stadium, Billingsley managed to understay his lack of welcome all the way to the sixth. After walking pitcher Kevin Millwood with one out, Billingsley benefited from an 8-4 sun-aided forceout at second base and then struck out Ellis on season-high pitch No. 123.

The ledger left by Billingsley when pinch-hitter Trent Oeltjen popped up for him showed six innings, four runs (three earned) 10 hits, two walks and five strikeouts.

And yet, Billingsley almost was the winning pitcher.

That’s because for the fourth game in a row, the Dodgers unfurled a surprising big-and-tall inning. Aaron Miles and James Loney singled. Matt Kemp was safe at first when third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff threw errantly home, Miles scoring the Dodgers’ first run.

Kemp was credited with his 99th RBI of the season, somewhat inexplicably but perhaps on the theory that Kouzmanoff should have thrown to first base. Then, the error was switched to catcher Chris Ianetta, but still Kemp’s 99th RBI remained in the boxscore.

Rivera drove in the second run, with Kemp nearly making a costly baserunning mistake, only to be safe at third when Kouzmanoff muffed Gonzalez’s throw for another error. Casey Blake then ripped a double to the wall in left-center. Kemp and Rivera scored to tie the game, but Ethier, waved home by Wallach a day after running through a Wallach stop sign, ended up with the same result – out by a rod.

Still, the Dodgers took the lead when (after A.J. Ellis was hit by a pitch) and Jamey Carroll singled home Blake. The Dodgers led, 5-4.

But Hong-Chih Kuo, who had warmed up when the Dodgers were trailing by four, entered the game in the seventh and on his first two pitches allowed a bunt single to Gonzalez and Tulowtizki’s second home run, which took high-speed rail over the short fence in left for a 6-5 Rockies lead.

The Dodgers threatened a second rally in the bottom of the eighth when they put two on with one out, but Carroll flied out and pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. popped out on a 3-2 pitch from Rafael Betancourt.

The out gave Betancourt 18 consecutive scoreless innings in which he had struck out 30 and walked one. But after Miles popped out to start the bottom of the ninth, Loney lowered the boom on Colorado once again, hitting a no-doubter into the right-field bleachers for his second homer in 24 hours against Colorado and sixth against the Rockies this season.

Soon after Kemp just missed winning the game with a high fly ball to left, we were headed into extra innings.

After Javy Guerra pitched a shutout 10th, the Dodgers loaded the bases against Jason Hammel when walks to Blake and Justin Sellers sandwiched a Rod Barajas single, but Miles struck out on three pitches.  After Mike MacDougal’s shutout 11th …

KEMP!

Thirty-one home runs. One hundred runs batted in. Dodgers 7, Rockies 6.

Aug 27

Vin Scully, ‘Flashing Spikes’

You can see Vin Scully below in 1962 teleplay “Flashing Spikes,” which aired on anthology series “Alcoa Premiere.” John Ford directed, Jameson Brewer wrote the script and Jimmy Stewart starred with John Wayne, Fred Astaire, Jack Warden, Tige Andrews and Don Drysdale as “Gomer.”



Courtesy Los Angeles DodgersMatt Kemp after Friday’s game.
Aug 26

A night not to balk at being a Dodger fan


Mark J. Terrill/APMr. 30-33, Matt Kemp, is now on pace for 37 homers to go with 41 steals this season.

Ted Lilly giving up an early home run? Typical game.

The Dodger offense struggling to put a single run on the scoreboard? Typical game.

A six-run rally driven by two balks, a James Loney homer and a Dodger joining the 30-30 club? Not such a typical game.

Mark J. Terrill/APJim Tracy wasn’t seeing straight after two balks were called on his team in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but they rolled a six on the Rockies and moved directly to a 6-1 victory.

It was the Dodgers’ fourth straight victory, their second in a row with a six-run inning, and their first with confirmation that Vin Scully would be back for more in 2012.

Working on a 1-0 shutout, Colorado starter Esmeril Rogers walked Andre Ethier and Aaron Miles, and Rod Barajas (after being forced to bunt for two pitches) singled to load the bases. However, the Dodgers seemed doomed – rather typically doomed, as it were – when Ethier tried to score on Jamey Carroll’s fly ball to center field and was thrown out, as we’ll get to continue hearing Vinny say, “from you to me.”

But after pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn was intentionally walked – I’m not sure about the smarts behind that one, by the way – Miles goaded Rogers into committing a balk that moved everyone up and tied the game. And then, with runners on second and third, Justin Sellers’ single drove in two more runs to give the Dodgers the lead.

A bitter Rogers was relieved by Matt Reynolds, who immediately picked off Sellers – only to have another balk called. That was all Jim Tracy could stand, and he couldn’t stands no more, his determination to protest the call getting him thrown out of the game.

With the reprieve, the Dodgers doubled their fun. Loney hit his seventh home run of the season – five of them against Colorado – to make the score 5-1. And then Kemp hit his crowning-glory absolute rocket to center.

Loney, 2 for 4, is now 13 for his last 21 with a walk and 22 total bases: a .636 on-base percentage, 1.048 slugging percentage and 1.684 OPS.

Kenley Jansen made a successful return from the disabled list with a 14-pitch perfect eighth inning, and Scott Elbert took on the ninth, allowing two hits but no runs. Lilly got the win with his fourth outstanding start out of his past five, a stretch in which he has a 2.20 ERA.

* * *

Tweets from Beto Duran of ESPN Radio:

  • Vin Scully held impromptu press conference in elevator after game. By far coolest ride ever!
  • Vin “winning and losing doesn’t bother me, it’s just love of people. Just don’t know what I’d do”
  • Vin on announcing return during game. “Didn’t want to make big deal. Not trying to be a Brett Favre”

Aug 26

And for dessert: Matt Kemp, 30-30

Matt Kemp slammed his 30th home run of the season to center field to cap a six-run seventh inning and become the second Dodger (after Raul Mondesi) ever with 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same season.

The ball went almost to the same exact spot as Jose Canseco’s grand slam in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Aug 15

Matt Kemp really can win the NL MVP Award, but will he?


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMatt Kemp has had every reason to smile in ’11 — except the biggest: contending for the playoffs.

Like drivers who see a good parking space but hold out hope for a better one, even though, for crying out loud, the parking space right in front of them is absolutely all they need, the National League Most Valuable Player voters will select the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp for the honor only if they can’t envision an alternative.

With barely 25 percent of the 2011 regular season remaining (and if you thought “That much?” you’re not alone), Kemp and his .975 OPS, 31 steals in 36 attempts, 28 home runs and exceptional advanced stats (an NL-best .351 total average, according to Baseball Prospectus) are clearly in the thick of the MVP discussion — and he’s there despite playing the majority of his games in the same pitchers’ parks that some will hold against Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young vote.

But by playing for a team that is on the express track to a losing season, Kemp will battle those who feel that the MVP must come from a more close-to-the-action team rather than one on the outer reaches of the mall.

Personally, long before I thought a Dodger would be in this kind of discussion, I’ve been in favor of giving the award to the best player regardless of the team’s record.  Your value isn’t diminished by your surroundings, even if your surroundings are grim. I mean hey, would you dock Mother Teresa any Most Valuable Saint points because she was surrounded by also-rans? Heck no.

But the reality of a vote that hasn’t seen an NL MVP from a losing team since Andre Dawson in 1987 is fairly easy to suss.

As recently as 2009, Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres had a .407 on-base percentage, a .551 slugging percentage, 40 home runs and 99 RBI playing in a ballpark that is as smothering to batters as any in the NL. In wins above replacement, Gonzalez ranked fourth in the NL according to Baseball-Reference.com’s formula, sixth according to FanGraphs. In total average, Gonzalez was third.

Now, you’ll notice that Gonzalez wasn’t first in these categories, even the park-adjusted ones, so it’s not as if he had the right to feel cheated by not winning the MVP, which went unanimously to the dominant Albert Pujols of St. Louis. But somehow, Gonzalez finished not third, not sixth, but 12th, behind players who had inferior seasons at the plate … including Matt Kemp of the NL West-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, with an .842 OPS that was .116 below Gonzalez’s.

Kemp got credit for playing a more valuable defensive position and was viewed at the time as playing it well — that was his Gold Glove year. But Gonzalez finished fifth in the MVP vote even if you sift out first basemen, trailing Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Derrek Lee.

Only Pujols had a better season than Gonzalez when park factors were taken into account. But Howard and Fielder also had more home runs than Gonzalez, and each played on a better team.

If there’s a silver lining to this ’09 flashback for those rooting for Kemp in 2011, it’s that voters put Fielder in fourth place even though he played for an 80-82 Brewers team that wasn’t much more relevant to the 2009 pennant chase than Gonzalez’s 75-87 Padres. Fielder’s 46 home runs (one behind Pujols) and 141 RBIs (tied with Howard for the league lead) were too gaudy to allow him to slide any lower.

Of course, we’re not questioning whether Kemp is Penske material. We’re wondering how likely it is that he’ll become the CEO. Here’s who might be considered the 10 finalists vying with Kemp for the big office.

  • Albert Pujols. Thanks to a rougher-than usual start, Pujols is not as dominant as he was, although he hit his 29th home run Sunday to retake the National League lead from teammate Lance Berkman and Kemp. I’m not sure anyone playing the odds would expect Pujols to land anywhere below No. 1 in homers when the season ends. But the rest of his traditional stats are closer to mundane, and in advanced, untraditional numbers, he’s not really registering. A big September kick that propels St. Louis into the playoffs could certainly reopen his candidacy, but right now there’s almost no chance that a perceived down year for Pujols would outpoll Kemp.
  • Icon SMIJose Reyes’ MVP hopes have gone to the disabled list with him.
  • Lance Berkman. Pujols’ sidekick — who signed with St. Louis for $8 million this past offseason — trails Kemp in total average but by a slim .001. Kemp’s overall body of work (including 31 steals versus zero) should push the other Cardinals slugger aside, though.
  • Jose Reyes. Considered by many to be the other top candidate from a noncontender, Reyes leads the NL in batting average and steals and has shortstop credentials to boot, but his OPS is far lower than Kemp’s, and now hamstring issues have sidelined him indefinitely. Believe it or not, Reyes is still on pace for the most triples in the NL since Kiki Cuyler had 26 in 1925, but Kemp is putting some distance between them.
  • Troy Tulowitzki. Quietly, the Rockies star has become the shortstop to beat in the NL MVP race. According to FanGraphs, he co-leads the NL in wins above replacement and is by himself in fielding value, and he has a nice 23 home runs as the cherry on top. But speaking of Ripley’s, Colorado has actually fallen behind the Dodgers into fourth place in the NL West. That, plus the natural discount on Coors Field-boosted stats, has Tulo in Kemp’s rearview mirror.
  • Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates outfielder’s long-running snub from the All-Star Game, which finally ended with a last-minute selection as a replacement, might have done more to boost his national profile than anything on the field. Pittsburgh was a surprise contender in the NL Central for most of the season, thanks as much to the 24-year-old McCutchen (a Gold Glove candidate with a bat) as anyone else. But like the Pirates, McCutchen has fallen on hard times lately and has a .684 OPS since the All-Star break.
  • Joey Votto. The defending MVP (taking 31 of 32 first-place votes last year) has 19 home runs, barely half of last year’s 37, and his Reds are 11 games out of first place. He’s having a great season, no doubt (.949 OPS, 5.1 WAR, .408 wOBA, league-high 85 walks), but he’s not a threat to outpoll Kemp at this point.
  • Prince Fielder. The aforementioned slugger has marquee stats (.985 OPS, 27 HR, 89 RBI) that resemble Kemp’s. Milwaukee — the Dodgers’ destination Monday — offers a nice showcase between the two players. His plate discipline is better (77 walks, 73 strikeouts), but — are you sitting down? — he has 31 fewer stolen bases. Fielder also plays first base, and not particularly adroitly. The Brewers have a five-game lead in the NL Central, though, and Fielder is the biggest reason, at least in size.
  • Ryan Braun. Every year in Variety as the Emmys approach, we wonder aloud whether two nominees from the same well-regarded TV show will cancel each other out, opening the door for a third alternative. Braun (.965 OPS, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 22 steals) has worthy credentials, but his traditional numbers rate slightly below Kemp’s, as does his 5.1 WAR. The presence of Fielder and Braun on the same team could cause each to lose the inherent advantage of playing for a contender.
  • Roy Halladay. The best players on the best team in the NL are, as you know, pitchers Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Phillies’ top position player, Shane Victorino, hasn’t even logged 100 games yet this year, while Howard’s .840 OPS as a first baseman isn’t gonna cut it. Halladay (154 ERA+, 2.51 ERA, 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings) and Lee (137, 2.83, 9.3), on the other hand, have been so good that one of them (slight edge to Halladay) will be a viable option for voters who don’t see why a great player on the undisputed regular-season champion shouldn’t win. A pitcher hasn’t won the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968, but that might not be any less likely than Kemp’s becoming the first from a losing team to win since Dawson. Halladay is looking like a Hall of Famer, after all — voters aren’t going to dismiss him out of hand just because he’s on the mound. Not this year.
  • Justin Upton. This one’s late-arriving on the radar, but coinciding with Arizona’s surge into the NL West lead is what’s becoming a monster season for Upton thanks to a 1.109 OPS since the All-Star break. Upton’s .379 on-base percentage, .564 slugging, 25 homers, 75 RBIs, 18 steals and .403 wOBA (weighted on-base average) all trail Kemp’s, but in most cases not by a ton — and Upton, a plus fielder, has moved ahead in WAR. This is a classic case of where, by the time the season ends, Kemp might lose the edge not because of what he did but because of what his teammates did.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJustin Upton has slid into MVP contention — perhaps the lead position.

There are others who will get looks from voters, but no one better than the best on this list.

The NL MVP award is there for Kemp’s taking. But he’ll have to take it. He is absolutely going to need a finishing kick. Upton, in particular, is exactly the kind of player Kemp needs to watch out for — someone who meshes with his profile but who’s doing it with the pressure of a pennant race.

But it’s not just wishful thinking in a downtrodden Dodgers season to believe that Kemp will win the NL MVP. Not at all.

Aug 01

Road boosts Kemp’s Triple Crown hopes


Kirby Lee/US PresswireMatt Kemp (shown above wearing his airplane headset around his neck) is the Dodgers’ best Triple Crown candidate since Adrian Beltre, who led the NL in homers in 2004 and finished fourth in batting average and RBI.

No, we don’t value RBI much as a stat in these parts — not without context anyway — and we value batting average even less.

Unless they give us something fun to root for.

Here we are on August 1, and Matt Kemp still is plumb in the thick of Triple Crown contention.

The thing I like most in Kemp’s favor is that 33 of the Dodgers’ remaining 55 games are on the road, where Kemp is batting .335 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 48 games.

Admittedly, some of those games will be in pitcher paradises like San Diego, where the Dodgers begin a three-game series tonight. But most of them are in ballparks where Kemp’s bat will feel much more footloose and fancy-free than it has in Dodger Stadium this year, where he is batting .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 59 games.

The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. Here’s the breakdown:

Batting average
.341 Jose Reyes
.322 Ryan Braun
.319 Daniel Murphy
.319 Joey Votto
.317 Matt Kemp

Kemp’s greatest deficit is in batting average, but it’s also the only category where the leaders can come back down to you. Kemp is currently hitting 27 points above his career average, but Reyes is 50 points above his and hasn’t batted over .300 since his rookie year in 2003.

Home runs
28 Lance Berkman
26 Matt Kemp
24 Albert Pujols
24 Prince Fielder
24 Mike Stanton

Comeback Player of the Year candidate Berkman is 35 and has been battling shoulder issues. Kemp’s bigger challenge might come from the guys behind him: renowned tater-trotters Pujols and Fielder as well as the up-and-coming Stanton.

Runs batted in
82 Matt Kemp
81 Ryan Howard
76 Prince Fielder
73 Troy Tulowitzki
72 Lance Berkman

How close is it to a miracle that Kemp is leading the National League in RBI? His team’s No. 1 and No. 2 hitters are combining for a .327 on-base percentage, which is 10th in the NL and worst among the five teams represented here. But he’s come this far … why stop now?

Jul 08

Gonna fly now …

Remarkably, the Dodgers have been successful on 25 of their past 26 steal attempts, dating back to Matt Kemp stealing third on June 20.

According to the Dodger press notes, this year’s team is running second in Los Angeles history with an 81.2 percent success rate (69 for 85), trailing only the famous 1962 team (82.2 percent, 198 for 241).

Kemp is 26 for 29 this season and has stolen 18 straight bases since he was last caught, on April 20. Kemp’s baserunning coach, Davey Lopes, holds the team (and former MLB) record with 38 consecutive steals in 1975.

Meanwhile, the Dodger homerless streak now sits at at 318 plate appearances. Take what you can get.

Jul 06

Home Run Derby and Matt Kemp’s swing

I’m pretty sure that someone did a study about whether it was fact or fiction that Home Run Derby participation ruins a player’s swing, but I can’t seem to find it right now.  So instead, here’s what Two Guys From ESPN, Nomar Garciaparra and John Kruk, had to say on the subject during a conference call:

Q. Nomar, Matt Kemp is doing this for the first time. Maybe he’s not your traditional slugger type body type. He might be more your body type. So speaking from experience, how does this kind of event mess around with your swing or is that kind of an overrated thing that gets talked about too much?

Garciaparra: Well, first of all, I wish I had his body type. I don’t think we’re the same body type. Are you kidding me? Wow. I don’t think it will mess with his swing. I think the hardest thing and the important thing is you’ve got to be big and strong for this event.

It is totally different when you’re in batting practice you can kind of get into rhythm. The pitcher’s throwing the ball and you’re going. In batting practice they say don’t look at the ball. You’re supposed to just hit. You can kind of get in that rhythm.

Here it’s swing, watch, tend to sit back in the box and let’s swing as hard as you can again. Step out, get back in the box. That is difficult to do as a hitter. That takes a lot of sheer strength body wise all through the body.

When I look at the way Matt Kemp is built, he has that. So I think he’ll be all right. The difficult thing is to get away from all the emotion that’s surrounding it. Get away from the anxiety, because that is all going to be a part of it.

You realize there are thousands and thousands of people in the stands. All they’re doing is focused on you and watching. All eyes are on you in this one swing and every one you do. I know it’s like that during the season, but this is a totally different way to do it. There are nerves, anxiety, adrenaline, and you have to combat all of that, especially for your first time. But I think he has the body and strength to do it.

Q. Is the talk about how swings get messed up from doing this overrated?

Garciaparra: I think so. I think the All Star’s just a unique thing. When you do that, you go out there and swing and swing hard. At this level to be successful if you’re an All Star, you know what you have to do to get back on track.

Kruk: I agree with Nomar. I think every player that’s ever played from a guy that hits two home runs a year to a guy that hits 50 home runs a year, they have a point in batting practice where they’re trying to hit home runs.

Tony Gwynn every once in a while would try to do it too, and he used to hit .380 every year. Didn’t do too much to his swing. Everyone does it, so it doesn’t mess up your swing.

Jun 23

A new hope: Kemp joins Kershaw as light savior


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMatt Kemp has been the most valuable offensive player in the NL in 2011, according to Fangraphs.

They are the two shining lights of the Los Angeles Dodgers, two high beams coming down the highway in blinding glory, belying the sputtering engine behind them.

Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the redemptive forces in a sinful year for the Dodgers. With respect to the speedy pleasures of Dee Gordon, the early season build of Andre Ethier’s hitting streak or the fleeting moments of glory for the other boys in white and blue (Hey, remember that time Jerry Sands doubled in his first at-bat? That was awesome), Kemp and Kershaw have been the sustaining forces for the masses.

With Kershaw, we expected no less. Ascending with blinding speed, the lefty has scarcely had his destiny challenged since he made his minor-league debut at age 18, outside some concern about his control that was easily pegged to his youth. Precocious in talent and work ethic, thoroughly grounded and determined, Kershaw just keeps blossoming, with 117 strikeouts and only 114 baserunners allowed in 107 1/3 innings this season. His ERA is at 3.01, with 12 of the 36 runs he has allowed in 2011 coming in twin pairs of sixth and seventh innings on in Cincinnati and Colorado — two blips preventing his ERA from settling in the low 2s.

Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireClayton Kershaw leads the major leagues in strikeouts per nine innings.

Every start, Kershaw brings no-hit stuff, and twice in the past month he has nearly brought it home, before settling for two-hit shutouts. Always poised on the mound, Kershaw is the rare beacon of confidence in a Dodger world teeming with doubt.

Rare except for Kemp, who stands in contrast as someone whose raison d’etre has repeatedly been second-guessed. No matter what he did on the field for most of 2010, the question dogged him: ballplayer or imposter?

Kemp picked up the Bison nickname way back in his first week as a Dodger, though perhaps Baby Bison might have been more appropriate.  His obvious speed and strength immediately inspired people who nicknamed him, but anyone could also have anticipated that there would be growing pains on the prairie.

And yet, just as easy as the hurdles were to predict, so was the impatience. Let’s put this in perspective: Kemp made his major-league debut in 2006. For four seasons, his improvement was measurable. Even his 2010 season launched like a rocket with seven home runs in his first 14 games.

Whatever the reasons things went wrong for Kemp, 25 years old at the time, the widespread disgust with his performance from so many quarters outran even the Bison. Some of us look at struggling athletes and say, “This is what people go through, and the ones who are meant to conquer it will.” Others just say, “This shouldn’t happen – period.”

No one wants to rehash the whys and wherefores of last season — that’d would deck the halls with all the fun and good times of an unanesthetized root canal. The question was whether Kemp would or could do anything about it, a question that I wrote last fall was anything but simple:

… Everyone is expecting Kemp to be humble about a career that, until a few months ago, he has had every reason to take pride in. That might require more than an overnight adjustment. It might require trying harder, and then thinking you’ve got it, and then realizing you don’t, and then having to search – sincerely search – for new levels within yourself that aren’t immediately apparent.

Kemp, who has averaged more than 20 homers a year with a .285 batting average, who has had Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors, two playoff appearances, a past income of more than $5 million and a guaranteed 2011 income of nearly $7 million, who came back and improved after disappointing finishes to his 2006 and 2008 seasons, is being told that’s not enough, not nearly. He’s being told that if he doesn’t improve in 2011, he will be a great disappointment, and if there’s any question about his effort, it will be nothing less than shameful. …

If Kemp were to say to himself – and I personally don’t think for a moment he is saying this to himself – “I have money, I have love, I have a good job and I have my health, and I have this all just by being who I already am, and even though I’m no longer the best, that’s all I need,” no one would think for a moment that this was a legitimate perspective, even though outside the world of competitive sports, it most certainly is. In sports, there’s no greater sin than unrealized potential. And yet in life, in real life, letting some of your potential go at a certain point can actually be a gift to yourself and your loved ones. …

As much as I wanted Kemp to rebound, I would have understood on a hits-close-to-home level if he hadn’t. But we needn’t have wondered.

Smaller guys like Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles are typically called grinders, but Matt Kemp is nothing if not grinding. You can see it in the way he runs, the way he hits, even the way he holds himself back when he needs to. His spikes pulverize the dirt like engine pistons, his turbine power could light up 200,000 homes.

What’s better than a guy who makes you drop everything you’re doing to see what he’ll do next — and who constantly rewards you for the attention? That is Matt Kemp. His nearly homer-a-day performance on the Dodgers’ early June roadtrip was like a layer of Thompson’s Water Seal preventing any viewers from leaking away during his at-bats. The man came up to pinch-hit with a bad hamstring in the ninth inning and the Dodgers trailing 6-0 in Colorado — and you had to watch. And he delivered. His 20 homers and 21 steals in only 76 games — just extraordinary.

The respect and fear he has generated has only added to his momentum — intentional walks in the first inning, getting pitched around even if he’s the tying or winning run. To his credit, Kemp has made the most of this, reining in his swing when appropriate. I don’t suppose people buy tickets just to see maturity on display, but Kemp has put on a nightly revue.

It almost defies belief that the Dodgers might have their worst ballclub in two decades — yet could legitimately end up with the National League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards. In some ways similar, in some ways so different, Kershaw and Kemp have kept the lights on at Dodger Stadium, guiding us through the fog.

Jun 21

Kemp has 20-20 vision, Kuo looks perfect in Dodgers’ third-straight win

Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireIn his first at-bat since returning to Los Angeles, A.J. Ellis drives in the Dodgers’ first run.

The third feel-good three-game winning streak for the Dodgers is here, with these highlights coming from a 6-1 victory over Detroit:

  • Hong-Chih Kuo returning to action for the first time since May 9 and throwing a nine-pitch perfect inning.
  • Matt Kemp stealing two bases to reach 20 homers and 20 steals in his 75th game this season.
  • A Dodger offense that gave Detroit starter Max Scherzer fits, with six runs on 11 baserunners in six innings.
  • A.J. Ellis reaching base twice in his first start since April, raising his season on-base percentage to .435.
  • Two times on base each as well for James Loney, Aaron Miles, Juan Uribe and Tony Gwynn Jr.
  • Andre Ethier hitting his seventh home run of the year, on a 3-0 pitch.
  • Back-to-back RBI doubles by Trent Oeltjen and Dee Gordon.
  • Chad Billingsley allowing one run in his first five innings, before running into trouble in the sixth.
  • Mike MacDougal overcoming us cynics by inducing a double play with the bases loaded in relief of Billingsley.
  • The Dodgers’ ERA this week: 0.33 so far, with one run, 12 hits and six walks against 28 strikeouts in 27 innings.
  • For the second night in a row, a Dodger pitcher (Blake Hawksworth) struck out the side in the ninth.
  • Up in San Francisco, the Giants giving up eight runs before getting their second out of the game in a 9-2 loss to Minnesota.

The Dodgers will go for their first three-game sweep of a series and four-game winning streak of the season Wednesday afternoon.

Jun 20

Kershaw XCIX: Kershawl the President’s Men

Bob Timmermann writes at Native Intelligence about the upcoming Society for American Baseball Research convention in Long Beach.

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness explores what Matt Kemp might be worth in his next contract.