Before the 2011 season began in LA, there were many questions about this year's Dodger squad. The 2010 campaign was a forgettable season in many ways, and there was surely reason to think that this year's team may not be any better.
But for the optimistic fan, there was the hope that 2011 would be a rebound year if a couple of guys could build on their potential. So far Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp have been doing just that, and actually exceeding expectations early on in this young season.
Matt Kemp won the Gold Glove in 2009 and was widely praised as one of the biggest up-and-coming superstars in the National League.
Then in 2010, he had a much-publicized dating relationship with megastar Rihanna, and a perceived lack of focus on baseball. His batting average dropped tremendously, his power numbers came in spurts, but couldn't be counted on with any kind of consistency. He was publicly called out for his effort by GM Ned Colletti. Nobody knew quite what to expect out of him coming into this new season.
Clayton Kershaw, on the other hand, really started to fulfill his potential last year. After an April in which he walked 22 batters in 29 innings, he would go on to only walk another 59 over his final 175 innings. In September of 2010 he had an ERA of 2.38 with a WHIP of 0.85. He finished the season with 13 wins and considered the ace of the staff. Kershaw entered this year as the Opening Day starter.
With the departure of recently shamed and retired Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers' inability to land a slugger in the offseason, most people figured that Kemp would have to regain his 2009 form for the Dodgers to succeed.
Early on, Kemp is looking like a much better player that the one fans were expecting (thank you, Davey Lopes). He is hitting over .400 and creating havoc on the base paths like no Dodger in recent history.
After Monday's win against the Giants, he is up to a perfect seven-for-seven stealing bases. He has scored in seven of the team's 10 games. The team seems to be following Matt Kemp's lead more than anyone else and he seems to be thriving in the spotlight, rather than trying to shy away.
Kershaw, meanwhile, went out on Monday and threw another great game against the Giants. He had to throw a lot of pitches (117, to be exact), but walked only two batters and did not surrender a run to earn his second win against the rivals from the bay.
In a game in which he battled against the count, he showed a rare maturity for a young pitcher. He showed once again why he is considered the ace despite the fact that he is the team's youngest starter.
The season is still very young. Ten games do not necessarily provide the best gauge for how a club will perform all year. And a record of 6-4 is nothing to get all that excited about, but with the leadership of two maturing players the Dodgers have plenty of reason to be optimistic.
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