In deference to Clayton Kershaw, let's separate the “best player” from “best position player” label, shall we. Adrian Gonzalez is L.A.'s best position player. He's their MVP. And you might say that without Adrian Gonzalez the Dodgers are the Marlins.
Other than the two-month difference between his .398 home and .257 road batting averages, Gonzalez is not only remarkably consistent with the bat, but his numbers go in the exact direction you'd want them to go. Matt Kemp, not so much, but more on the Dodgers' best player of the past in a minute.
A-Gon — as he's known in Los Angeles, which is a tad more manly than the A-Go he went by as a San Diego Padre — hit .333 in April and is hitting .343 in May. He's hitting .319 at night and .386 during the day time. .307 versus right, .387 versus left. .278 batting third in the lineup, .386 in the cleanup role. Gonzalez has managed .408 with runners on base and .452 with them in scoring position. That's .452 with RISP. Runners in scoring position with two outs — are you sitting down? — 11 for 16 and .688.
Gonzalez sports a cool 1.000 average against the semi-rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after going 4-4 against C.J. Wilson and a cast of characters last night at the Ravine, in what was perhaps the Dodgers most exciting game of the year. I won't say “best game of the year” because it was mess of miscues, missed targets and missed baseballs in center field, as the Dodgers fell behind 6-1 after 3 ½ innings, but the Blue came storming back to win in emotional fashion, 8-7, behind two doubles from Gonzalez, two more from Scott Van Slyke (the 11 doubles for both clubs set a stadium record), a game-winning hit from just-off-the-disabled-list Jerry Hairston, Jr., and some fine relief work from Matt Guerrier, especially, as well as Javy Guerra, Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen and Brandon League, who made eight pitches to pick up his 11th save of the season.
An example of the “grit” and fire Don Mattingly spoke of last week (in an effort to either save his job or turn the team around) or just one ballgame, to be followed by more misery possibly beginning as early as the second game of the Freeway Series, tonight at 7:10 p.m. in Los Angeles? I don't know. I'd like to be optimistic, and in fact for today I am optimistic, but I don't know.
I do know that Matt Kemp is struggling with his game now, and it's not pretty watching him strike out in what seems like every at bat of late (four times last night as he went 0-9 over the weekend with six strikeouts). The dissatisfaction in the form of boos from the fans is disappointing, because quite clearly this is not a man lacking for effort we're talking about here.
I don't want to keep harping on Mattingly's handling of his franchise player, especially after such a feel-good win Monday, but the skipper simply has never distinguished himself in this very important area. You may recall that long before the center fielder injured his left shoulder famously crashing into an outfield wall last August in Denver, Kemp pulled up a bit lame with a hamstring in a May game in Chicago. May 5, 2012, to be precise.
Kemp had a consecutive games played streak approaching 400 at the time, and on a rainy day at Wrigley Field, May 6, Mattingly held his star player out for safekeeping, with the hope of inserting him later to keep the streak alive, and ideally in a spot to help him win a baseball game. This is where my eyebrows were first raised about the manager, and thinking he'd put a personal mark ahead of both the team and the health of vital player, here's what I wrote about it at the time.
Mattingly returned Kemp to the lineup the next day and kept him there until it was obvious that the disabled list was going to be required. Kemp came back in the minimum 15 days, played one full game and part of another, reinjured himself in the process and was lost to the team for 39 more.
While I'm not sure if player, manager or training staff is at fault for the second injury — and it's probably a combination of all three — I do believe Mattingly is primarily responsible for the first one. It was silly, and bordering on negligence to let Kemp play through that original tweak in the leg, and it led to more series issues down the line.
You may also remember that when Kemp ran into that wall in Coors Field, injuring both the shoulder and a knee, on August 28 of last year, he stayed in the game after several minutes as the fallen soldier on the warning track in center, begging off only after diving for a ball on the following play. Mattingly held him out the next two games, but Kemp went the rest of the season skipping but two more. Surgery to repair the labrum first thing during the offseason.
Again, I don't know who exactly gets to shoulder the blame there — pun intended — but it does signify a trend with this particular manager. Kemp pulls up lame in a game last May, he appears the next day in the rain. He runs into a wall in August, he stays in the game. Guerra takes a comebacker to the face last season, he stays in the game. Kemp takes a glancing ball to the noggin while batting this season, he stays in the game. A.J. Ellis gets bowled over at home plate Saturday night, he stays in the game. Hit on the forearm the day after being bowled over at home plate, he stays in the game.
Kemp's coming back from a seriously debilitating injury, struggling with the bat more and more each day and he's played in every game. 49 out of 49, albeit with most of two games resting for the better part of nine innings, and 32 dates between those two breaks in the action. It's not unusual for a player to compensate for an injury by unconsciously altering his mechanics in one way or another. Perhaps that's what happening with Kemp, or perhaps he's favoring the shoulder because a current injury exists.
This much we know: He's not playing well, and if he's not completely exhausted both mentally and physically, after appearing in every game of the season while coming back from major surgery, he's even more of a superman than we previously thought possible. And while Kemp may be able to run through walls, he cannot see through them. More care from his superiors is required.