Sunday, April 14, 2013

It all starts with this guy

Sunday's loss in Arizona perfectly summed up what the Dodgers have been about this young season: great starting pitching and no clutch hitting.  Josh Beckett threw a complete game, gave up one run, and lost 1-0.  How can they continue to give their pitchers a huge lack of run support?

It all comes back to Matt Kemp.

Kemp went 0-for-4, dropping his average to .174.  He also struck out three times, the ninth time in 12 games he's had at least one strikeout, and his third multi-K game.  He still doesn't have a homer, and only four RBIs.

To put things in perspective, last year through 12 games he was hitting .457 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs.  In his (should have been) MVP season of 2011, his numbers were .425/1/6.

To say it's been a frustrating start to 2013 for Kemp is an understatement.  And no surprise, it's been a frustrating overall experience for the whole offense, which went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Sunday.  Time and time again they've failed to cash in when needed the most.  Simply put, it's been ugly.

It's not like the Dodgers aren't getting men on base.  Right now they rank seventh in baseball with a .340 OBP.  With runners in scoring position, those numbers tank, as they're 17-for-102 for a .167 average.  That's just putrid.

Kemp is the key to these numbers taking a turn for the better.  He can't single-handedly turn them around, but he sure can be a big part of it.  He's had 16 at-bats in these situations, and only one hit to show for it (a two-run single on Saturday).  As if his .174 average isn't bad enough, an .063 average with RISP is even worse.

Anyone with even a basic level of understanding of hitting can tell that Kemp is trying way too hard to kill the ball on every swing.  Right now he's doing one of three things each plate appearance: swing and miss, fly out, or hit a weak grounder.  You can count on one hand how many solid hits he's had this year.  Heck, he only has eight total, so you don't even need two whole hands to do that.

I can only wonder if this season would be any different had Hanley Ramirez not gotten hurt in the last game of the World Baseball Classic.  I think the domino effect has been obvious.  Despite guys like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier in the lineup, Kemp put more pressure on himself to pick up the slack created by that injury.  The result has been a huge negative, as the added pressure to post big numbers has made him one of the easiest guys in the league to get out right now.

Plus, I have to wonder if he's fully healthy himself.  Let's not forget that a bum shoulder from running into the outfield wall in Colorado late last August caused him to hit .245 in September.  He also missed half of May, all of June, and the beginning of July with a bad hamstring.  He rested all offseason, but for a guy who wants to hit for power, it's fair to ask if something is still physically wrong with him.

Don Mattingly can't afford to give him much time off, but a day here or there might not be a bad idea right now.  Gonzalez, Ethier and Crawford are swinging very well right now, and the Dodgers have little to show for it offensively because of Kemp.  I know he prides himself on leading the team from the #3 hole, but some more rest might be needed.

Look, I don't expect Kemp to continue to play this poorly.  It's not like he'll hit under the Mendoza Line, as there's way too much talent in that body.  But even when Ramirez makes his return, the Dodgers will only go as far as Kemp can take them.  They can still be good, but won't be great.  That's on Kemp.

And until he gets back to driving the ball all over the park, expect to see more fantastic efforts like Beckett's wasted.  That's the kind of impact he has on this team.

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