What Matt Kemp Returning to Stardom Would Mean for Dodgers' Title Hopes

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2014

Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp, right, hits a two-run home run as Chicago Cubs catcher Welington Castillo, left, and home plate umpire Tony Randazzo look on during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Dodgers were mostly quiet at the trade deadline, making one modest move but staying away from a blockbuster pickup.

Still, it's possible they could get a significant stretch-run contribution from a former National League MVP candidate and five-tool slugger.

Perhaps you've heard of him? He's a fellow by the name of Matt Kemp.

Kemp has struggled so mightily it's easy to forget what a beast he was—and not in some distant, sepia-toned past. This is a guy who was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game as recently as 2011.

That's the year he hit .324 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI but lost the NL MVP race to Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun. According to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), Kemp has since said he thinks Braun should be stripped of the award due to his admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Since that sensational season, the 29-year-old Kemp has battled injuries and inconsistency.

His low point came last year, when he managed just six home runs and 33 RBI in 73 games and missed the Dodgers' postseason run with a bum ankle.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 05:  Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reaches for his left shoulder in pain after a swing of the bat in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on July 5, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Kemp wou
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Kemp summed it up at the time by telling the AP (h/t USA Today) his struggled were "like a bad nightmare."

Could this be the year he wakes up from that unpleasant dream?

Maybe. The 2014 campaign hasn't been a seamless one for Kemp. His numbers are still down precipitously from his otherworldly peak—he was batting .285 with 13 home runs entering play Monday. In May, Fox Sports West's Michael Martinez reported that he was grumbling about a lack of playing time.

Even when he's looked like his old self, which he has in spurts, the results haven't been there. CBSSports.com's Marty Gitlin summarizes that conundrum:

What is perplexing is that, according to Fangraphs.com, Kemp is hitting line drives and making contact at virtually the same rate as he did during his glory years. His plate discipline has actually improved. Yet he is simply not getting anywhere near the same results.

Lately, though, things have begun looking up—much like fans at Dodger Stadium have looked up to watch a barrage of recent Kemp home runs.

He hit one in Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs, and he belted a pair of two-run shots in a July 29 8-4 win over the Atlanta Braves.

That outburst came on the brink of the trade deadline, with talk of a potential deal involving Kemp swirling.

“I’m not worried about any rumors,” he told the Long Beach Press-Telegram's Robert Morales. “I’m just worried about helping us win in any way.”

As it turns out, Kemp didn't need to worry. He followed up his July 29 performance with another home run and a walk-off single on July 30.

"The balls he’s starting to hit are reminiscent of the balls that he was hitting back in 2011,” catcher A.J. Ellis told the Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck of his teammate's resurgence.

Then the 2014 deadline came and went, and Kemp remained a Dodger.

Now, with two critical months ahead and Los Angeles holding a 2.5-game lead over the archrival San Francisco Giants in the NL West, the question is whether Kemp can be the Dodger he used to be—the guy who flirted with MVP awards, murdered baseballs and terrified opposing pitchers.

If so, it would be an immeasurable boost for an offense that has been less fearsome than advertised.

Despite his well-documented struggles at the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, Yasiel Puig has turned in a solid sophomore effort. Others, howeverincluding Adrian Gonzalez (.264 AVG, 15 HR) and Hanley Ramirez (.276 AVG, 12 HR)have not provided the thump and consistent production the Dodgers expected.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Still, Los Angeles is well-positioned. With a terrific top of the rotation anchored by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers could be a postseason force, though question marks remain in the bullpen.

Last year, they reached the National League Championship Series. This year, they've got visions of their first Fall Classic appearance in more than a quarter-century.

If they're going to get there, though, they'll need some extra firepower. It could come from any number of sources—the lineup is loaded with potential weapons. But if anyone is going to come charging back with a vengeance, shouldn't it be the guy they call "The Bison"?

The Dodgers were mostly quiet at the deadline. They're hoping Kemp is about to get loud.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.