Matt Kemp of the Dodgers had himself quite a weekend in Cincinnati. He nearly single-handedly won the series against the Reds, reaching base in 12 of his 16 plate appearances. Kemp hit three home runs, all towering and one to each field, and the highlight of his weekend was the game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning on Saturday, helping the Dodgers to just their fourth win in 54 years when trailing by five or more runs after seven innings.
It has been a stellar season for Kemp in nearly all aspects of his game, a vast improvement over 2010. Last year was a bad year for the Dodgers, and a relatively bad one for Kemp too. He started off the season on fire, with seven home runs in his first 14 games, but the rest of the season was a mess for Kemp, who had an on-base percentage under .300 in each of the last four months of the year. Kemp struggled mightily on the bases as well, getting caught in 15 of his 34 stolen base attempts and was picked off four more times. This year, however, Kemp got off to a hot start, and has sustained it.
Kemp leads the Dodgers in nearly every offensive category this season, and in the rare case that he doesn't lead a category he is a very close second. He is hitting .323/.406/.591 through 60 games, with 16 home runs and 48 RBI. He is one home run behind Jay Bruce for the National League lead, and two RBI behind Adrian Gonzalez for the MLB lead in that category. To put Kemp's season in perspective, the last Dodger center fielder to slug .500 was Duke Snider...in 1957.
On the bases, Kemp has stolen 14 bases in 17 tries this season, and hasn't been caught stealing since April 21. New first base coach and friend (of both Kemp and his agent Dave Stewart) Davey Lopes has refined Kemp's mechanics on running the bases, and now there is much less wasted movement in Kemp's stride. Kemp has a chance to go down as the greatest power/speed player in franchise history. As of now Raul Mondesi is the only Dodger ever to have 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season, and he did it twice, in 1997 and 1999. In fact, there have only been twelve 20/20 seasons in the 127-year history of the Dodgers, and Kemp has a decent shot to join that club by the All-Star break.
Kemp is second in the National League in home runs and fifth in the league in stolen bases. Not to heap too high a praise on Kemp, but that's Willie Mays territory. Mays finished in the top five in both homers and steals five times in a seven-year stretch from 1955-1961. Bobby Bonds did it as well in 1973 and 1977, and his son Barry did it in 1990 and 1996. Chuck Klein is the only man ever to lead both categories in the same year, accomplishing the feat with the 1932 Phillies.
Kemp is even walking more this season as well, with an unintentional walk in 9.31% of his plate appearances, a career high and far above his career rate of 6.48% before this year. Kemp has been walked intentionally seven times this season, also a career high, but the only question is why hasn't Kemp been walked more often? Dodgers number five hitters this season (mostly Juan Uribe, with James Loney, Jay Gibbons, and Jerry Sands mixed in), batting directly behind Kemp, have hit a combined .222/.280/.333, and their .613 OPS ranks 28th among 30 MLB teams. Kemp is really carrying the Dodger offense.
Kemp nearly made the National League All-Star team in 2009, narrowly missing out on the Final Vote selection. In the first release of voting this season, Kemp was fifth among National League outfielders, behind Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and teammate Andre Ethier. Whether he starts the All-Star Game or not, Kemp simply has to be at Chase Field in Phoenix on July 12.
For more news and information on Matt Kemp and the Dodgers, be sure to read the SB Nation blog True Blue LA.