The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first two regular season games at Dodger Stadium were nothing short of embarrassing (we’ve already discussed Friday’s debacle). To make matters worse, Josh Beckett sprained his ankle during a rehab start at Class A Rancho Cucamonga last Thursday, Yasiel Puig sprained his left thumb ligament diving head-first into first base in Saturday’s game, and Chad Billingsley felt a sensation in his surgically-repaired elbow during his rehab start at Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday. Then, on Monday, the Dodgers learned that A.J. Ellis had torn the meniscus in his left knee trying to score from second base on an Andre Ethier single in Saturday’s game. With Clayton Kershaw already out with a back injury, things were looking pretty glum for the Boys in Blue.
But in Sunday’s game, the Dodgers’ lofty ambitions for the 2014 season were revitalized when the real Matt Kemp returned–slugging two home runs (one to right-center field off of a Matt Cain fastball)–and was aided by two home runs from Hanley Ramirez, and a solid six innings from starting pitcher Zack Greinke. After the game, Kemp remarked, in discussing his home run to right-center field: “That’s my swing right there.” If Kemp has in fact re-discovered the swing that nearly won him the 2011 NL MVP, the Dodgers shouldn’t have to worry about all of their injury concerns.
People often forget that just three seasons ago, Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in, 40 stolen bases, and a .985 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). After the 2011 season, many baseball observers felt that Kemp was the best player in the major leagues. And, unlike many others who’ve generated gaudy batting statistics, Kemp has never been suspected of using PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). Frankly, there was never any reason to believe that Kemp, entering his age 27 season, would have difficulty producing similar stats season after season during the prime of his career. In fact, before injuring his left hamstring in May 2012, Kemp had the longest consecutive games played streak in the majors at 399 games. Unfortunately, that hamstring injury lingered for two months, then a crash into the Coors Field outfield wall (left shoulder) in August 2012. a right hamstring injury in May 2013, and an awkward step onto home-plate (left ankle) at Nationals Park last summer, derailed (at least temporarily) his superstar trajectory.
Although Sunday’s game was hardly a blow-out, it’s hard to imagine any team being able to beat the Dodgers when Kemp and Ramirez are slugging home runs and either Kershaw or Greinke is on the mound. Of course, Kemp played in only 73 games last season, and Ramirez didn’t fare much better, playing in only 86 games. So the Dodgers are certain to keep their fingers crossed throughout the season, because one pulled hamstring, or awkward slide into a base, could spell doom for the team in an instant. For now, however, the Dodgers will enjoy every last ‘Bison Blast’ or ‘I See You’ celebration that comes their way.