Dodgers Kemp Flirting With Historic Season

With 43 games left in the season, Matt Kemp isn't on the national radar for a 40-40 season, a Triple Crown or a Most Valuable Player award. But he's within striking distance of all three, and the lack of attention -- mostly based on the Dodgers' record -- gives Kemp a chance to quietly go about putting up the numbers required for a historic season.

Kemp added another home run and stolen base to his season totals in Sunday's 7-0 win over the Astros, which completed a three-game sweep.

Through 119 games, Kemp has 28 home runs and 31 stolen bases, a pace of 38 homers and 42 steals. He's close to shattering the Dodgers record for fastest to 30/30, set by Raul Mondesi in 1999 (in 147 games).

"He doesn't amaze me anymore because we see it so much," pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. "It's almost unfair but we expect it out of him he's so good. His talents have really taken over."

Kemp showed off for his friend and fellow Oklahoma native Blake Griffith, who visited Dodger Stadium, on Saturday night by ending an 11-game homerless drought with a first-inning blast. The pitch was well inside, off the plate. Not only Kemp keep the ball fair, he hit it to left-center, not down the left-field line.

"That's extremely hard to do," marveled teammate Tony Gwynn, Jr. "That's one of Matt's biggest attributes is, he stays inside the ball really well, especially when he's going good. That's why you see a lot of (his home runs) going out to right-center. Anytime you can take a ball inside, off the plate, and hit it out to left-center, that's a good sign for him. You know he's in a good groove."

Winning the Triple Crown will be harder than a "40/40" because it will require catching the leader in all three categories.

Jose Reyes (.336) has a commanding 16-point lead over Kemp (.320) in the batting race. Reyes is on the disabled list and expected to return in a week.

But if Reyes' injury lingers and he misses significant time, he might not qualify for the batting title. Or if Reyes returns and the injury affects his timing, it could drop his average back into an attainable range. Ryan Braun is second with a .326 batting average, and that's within reach for Kemp.

The home runs are Kemp's easiest category to win. It's another down year for home runs everywhere. Kemp's homer Sunday tied him for second with the Cardinals' Lance Berkman at 28. NL leader Albert Pujols has 29.

The fifth inning of Saturday's game was an example of how hard it will be for Kemp to win the RBI crown. With runners at second and third and two outs, Kemp was intentionally walked -- even though the score was 4-0 Dodgers. Kemp has 89 RBI, which is six behind NL leader Ryan Howard. It was Kemp's 15th intentional walk, a career high, and the secon most in the majors this year.

Clearly, Kemp would need a monster September to reach any of the levels, but he's known for strong finishes. Last year, Kemp hit nine of his 28 home runs after August 13, including five in the final five games. The Dodgers' next road trip, which starts Monday, features three great hitters' ballparks: Milwaukee's Miller Park, Colorado's Coors Field, and St. Louis' Busch Stadium.

Kemp's 31st stolen base gives the Dodgers 92 on the
season, trailing the Padres (143) and Mets (104). 
Los Angeles' stolen base success rate of  814% 
ranks second in the Major Leagues behind San Diego.
The Dodgers' top four base stealers are all on pace
 to set their career high in stolen bases:
                      SB     Career Best
Matt Kemp             31          35
Tony Gwynn            17          17
Dee Gordon            12        rookie
Jamey Carroll         10          12   
--SS Justin Sellers collected his first major league hit, walk and run scored in Saturday's game, then his first home run in the majors on Sunday. It was a three-run shot, on a 1-2 count, off of Astros starter Jordan Lyles that made the score 7-0. Before the game, manager Don Mattingly told reporters not to underestimate the power of Sellers and that he would continue to start Sellers in most games.

--LHP Clayton Kershaw won his career-high 14th game Saturday night, allowing one run in eight innings. Of the six hits he allowed, three were infield singles, one was a blooper and another was lost in the twilight. In the recent Baseball America annual "Tools" survey, Kershaw was voted by National League managers for having the best curveball, and ranked third in fastball, pickoff and best pitcher.

--OF Tony Gwynn Jr. stole two bases Saturday and another Sunday. The steals gave him a career-high 18 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) this year.

--INF Juan Uribe's stay on the disabled list is going to last at least another 10 days and probably another two weeks. Uribe takes batting practice every day, but his left hip flexor strain hasn't improved enough for him to run the bases. He's not going on the Dodgers' 10-game road trip this week, so he can remain in Los Angeles for additional tests. A sports hernia or strained abdominal muscle are possible reasons for the timetable being off. With rehab games still needed, he might not return until rosters expand in September.

--RHP Kenley Jansen will end his three weeks on blood thinners Thursday and could start a minor league rehabilitation assignment by next weekend. Jansen continues to exercise and throw bullpen sessions almost daily, but isn't allowed on the field during batting practice or games, out of the danger of him getting hit in the head.

The Game
The Dodgers never trailed in any of their three games against Houston and completed the series sweep with a 7-0 victory. It was the Dodgers' 15th shutout win of the season, tying Philadelphia for the Major League lead. Los Angeles tied a season high with three home runs for the fifth time (last: June 27 at Minnesota).

  Los Angeles won its final four games of the season against the Astros to win the season series 5-4 and post consecutive winning seasons against Houston for the first time since 2000-2001. The Dodger pitching staff limited the Astros to just 14 hits and only one run in the three-game series. Interestingly enough, the Dodgers only allowed one run over three games in their only other series sweep of the season against San Diego from July 8-10.  

James Loney went 2-for-3 with a walk and is batting .467 (7-for-15) with a double, a homer and two RBI during his current five-game hitting streak. The Houston-area native has been at his best this season against his hometown Astros, batting .409 (9-for-22) in eight games.  

Justin Sellers hit the first home run of his career, a three-run shot in the sixth inning, which knocked Astros starter Jordan Lyles out of the game. The Bellflower native, who attended Marina High School in Huntington Beach, made his third consecutive start at shortstop this afternoon after being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque on Friday.  

Hiroki Kuroda made his sixth straight quality start, blanking the Astros over 7.0 innings and lowering his season ERA to 2.88 in his eighth win. Kuroda made two starts against Houston this season, both at Dodger Stadium, and blanked the Astros over 14.0 scoreless frames. Kuroda received a season-high tying seven runs of support for the third time this season (also: April 3 vs. San Francisco and April 24 at Chicago-NL).  

Dioner Navarro put the Dodgers on the board with a two-run homer in the second inning for his fifth home run of the season. Navarro has continued to perform better during the day, posting a .235 batting average (16-for-68) with four home runs in 21 day games while hitting .176 (16-for-91) with one homer in 38 night games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Shutout victories by the Dodgers this season, tied for the second most in the majors with Texas. The Phillies lead the majors with 15 shutouts. Six of those 14 shutouts are 1-0 wins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Wins are obviously the most important thing. Not necessarily my individual record, but team wins and losses when I'm pitching. It's nice to get those wins individually, but as long as you're winning, it doesn't really matter what my record is." -- LHP Clayton Kershaw, after recording his career-high 14th victory Saturday night. Kershaw has seven or eight starts left, giving him a chance at 20 wins.