Saturday, September 8, 2012

In the stretch run, Kemp needs to find his inner Beast Mode

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: no matter how many trades and "upgrades" the Dodgers make to their roster, one thing remains the same.

If the Dodgers want to reach the postseason, Matt Kemp needs to be the man.

It's time we get the return of Beast Mode.

That was obvious once again on Friday night in AT&T Park, where Kemp painfully went 0-for-5 and the Dodgers lost to the Giants, 5-2.  The loss drops the Dodgers to 5 1/2 games in back of the Giants in the NL West.  And with 23 games left, time is ticking away.

Even with the arrivals of Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, and with Andre Ethier signing an extension earlier this season, Kemp is unquestionably the leader of the team.  He's also the guy who gets things going, or the "straw who stirs the drink," to steal a term made famous by Reggie Jackson.

And there's no doubt that Kemp's struggles over the past month have directly correlated with the Dodgers' overall struggles in scoring runs.  If their big gun in the heart of the order is relegated to little groundouts and strikeouts, then the Dodgers can forget about a turnaround.  It ain't gonna happen.

On August 14 in Pittsburgh, Kemp went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI, raising his average to .359.  The Dodgers won that game 11-0, and even though he only had one hit the next game, his three RBIs helped the Dodgers win again, 9-3.  At this point, the Dodgers were up by a game over the Giants in the West, and more help would soon be arriving via the trade from Boston.

I think it's safe to say we all jumped the gun in thinking the Dodgers would cruise their way to the playoffs.  That most certainly has not been the case.  While injuries to Chad Billingsley and Kenley Jansen have not helped, as well as the revolving door of arms in the bullpen, it may all come down to Kemp's ineffectiveness as the major reason why the Dodgers are home in October.

In September alone, Kemp is stuck in a huge 3-for-26 slump (.115) with one homer, two RBIs, and no steals.  August started off well, but ended on a 10-for-50 skid from August 15 on with six RBIs.  Add it all up, and in his last 20 games, he's 13-for-76 (.171) with one homer and six RBIs.


To be fair to Kemp, I have to wonder if part of the problem is lingering affects from running into the Coors Field wall on August 28.  He only has three hits in seven games since then.  We saw earlier in the season how he tried to comeback too early from a hamstring injury, and boy was that a bad decision that cost him even more time, including the All-Star Game.  Is he making the same mistake right now?

Only Kemp can truly answer that, as we know his stubbornness for missing starts.  Much to his credit, he wants to be out there performing.  It's the "performing" part that is clearly dragging the Dodgers down right now, and the only way the offense will change is if he gets hot... and fast.

Let's all be thankful for the new Wild Card format, as the Dodgers are only 1 1/2 in back of the Cardinals for the #2 spot, as opposed to six in back of the Braves for the top spot.  In previous seasons, the panic meter would be sky high.  Now, not so much, though the sense of urgency is definitely there.

The good thing about Kemp is that we've seen what he can do when he starts hitting.  Let's not forget the start of the season, when he was the hottest hitter in all of baseball by hitting .417 in April with 12 homers and 25 RBIs.  While the Dodgers may not need those kinds of numbers, they need him to get back to Beast Mode again.  Anything less won't get it done.

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