When Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp walked three times in L.A.’s 2-1 Opening Day win over the San Francisco Giants, we should have seen this coming.
Or maybe we should have caught a clue when Kemp almost single-handedly manufactured a run in his first at-bat of the spring. After a single up the middle, Kemp stole second, anticipated and advanced to third on a grounder to short, then tagged and scored on a short fly ball to center.
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Combine that with what’s gone on in the first week and a half of the Major League Baseball season, and I think it’s time to pull out my “Jump To Conclusions” mat.
Matt Kemp will have an MVP-caliber season.
Need proof? Take the two-game, Friday-into-Saturday stretch between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. Kemp had just picked up his third hit to go along with a stolen base when rain ultimately suspended the game on Friday night.
What do you do for a Saturday night encore? How about a second consecutive three-hit game with three stolen bases? And for good measure, throw in an outfield assist from the center field fence when Orlando Hudson tried to tag up and go from first to second base.
Hidden in those numbers is the real story behind why Dodger fans are loving what they’ve seen from Kemp. In the fifth inning, he legged out an infield single. During Kemp’s lackluster .249/28/89 season in 2010, he managed just six infield hits – compared to 21 in 2009. With his speed, Kemp could likely raise his batting average several points just by legging out a few more ground balls.
Through the Dodgers first eight games, Kemp is hitting .429, and when he went to sleep on Saturday night, he was a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen bases, tying him for the Major League lead with Arizona’s Willie Bloomquist and Tampa Bay’s Sam Fuld.
The hiring of Davey Lopes in the offseason is beginning to pay off. The former Dodger second baseman deserved a lot of the credit behind the Philadelphia Phillies’ aggressiveness on the bases. Already, Lopes looks to have inspired the Dodgers (and Kemp in particular) to take a few more bags this season. Casey Blake has a stolen base in 2011. ‘Nuff said.
But more importantly, Kemp looks like a much more confident and competent base runner. One of the biggest knocks on him early in his career was that he was a wreck on the base paths. Kemp was frequently guilty of boneheaded plays that sometimes ran the Dodgers out of innings.
So far, the power is the only thing lacking (he has just one home run). But he has at least one hit in seven of the Dodgers’ first eight games – plus the back-to-back three-hit games. If he keeps seeing the ball this well, the home runs will come. The trick will be to keep him interested for the next six months. If Kemp can do that, considering him for MVP won’t be such a leap.