While they await the real Kemp, others await the real Dodgers

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
The Dodgers, in the midst of a hectic pennant race, need the bat of Matt Kemp more than ever. (US Presswire)

LOS ANGELES -- You can find him on Twitter @TheRealMattKemp.

What the Dodgers need right now is for their one-time MVP candidate and current slump-ridden center fielder to, well, slide back into his Twitter handle.

The real Matt Kemp?

Can't be the one buried in the throes of a 1 for 22 slump right now as the Giants crept a little further ahead of the Dodgers with Tuesday's 4-1 loss, can it?

The guy who is rainbowing mostly drama-less pop flies?

The guy who is bouncing into key double plays?

The guy who has transformed from MVP candidate into batting-practice project?

"You don't want to just sit here and say everything is going to be OK," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was saying Tuesday. "He's got to keep working on his mechanics with Dave [Hansen, hitting coach].

"Anytime you struggle for four or five games, you lose some confidence. We want to pay enough attention to it and continue to work without panicking.

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"It's usually an inch away but, as a player, you feel like it's three feet away."

Bases loaded in the sixth and trailing Tim Lincecum 4-0, the distance between the current Kemp and the old Kemp turned out to be closer to three feet than an inch. He belted an opposite-field drive to the warning track, good enough to knock home the run from third, but not enough mustard to come close to tying the game.

"I thought I hit it good," a downcast Kemp said. "Then I saw how Hunter reacted. That's how it is here."

Many other parks, Mattingly correctly noted, Kemp's drive would have crashed several rows into the seats. At big ol' Dodger Stadium, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence had plenty of room to haul it in.

So the Dodgers trail the Giants by 1 1/2 games and are faced with having to beat Matt Cain on Wednesday to avoid a sweep.

It's the way it goes in this game. Right now, Kemp looks helpless. A good portion of the sellout crowd of 56,000 booed when he bounced into a fourth-inning double play with the Giants leading 4-0. Watch and listen now and it seems as if he hasn't gotten a hit in months.

Which simply isn't true.

Why, into the Dodgers' game in Pittsburgh last Wednesday? Kemp had hit safely in 15 of 16 games and was batting .439 since July 28. He was so hot opposing pitchers needed oven mitts.

As it stands, he's still batting .315 with five homers and 24 RBI over 36 games since returning from a second stint on the disabled list on July 13.

"It's been five games," he said of his current offensive malaise. "It is what it is.

"You hit stretches in this game where you don't feel good at the plate."

Mattingly thought his at-bats looked more "settled" Tuesday. Though he was clearly overeager in the fourth, when, ahead of Lincecum 3 and 1, he swung wildly at a sharp-breaking slider that could have been ball four, then bounced a ball toward Pablo Sandoval at third.

"He chased 3 and 1 there," Mattingly said. "That's an area we've got to be willing to pass the baton and let the next guy do it."

Kemp is accustomed to doing it.

And when he doesn't, it sticks out like a Giants T-shirt in the Dodger Stadium stands. That simple.

That's why much of the talk before Tuesday night's game centered on Kemp's 0 for 19 streak (it moved to 0 for 21 before he rapped a ninth-inning single).

"That 0 for 19, he can't get back," Mattingly said. "It's moved forward. It's the next 19 we'll worry about."

Kemp knows it. But that still doesn't make it any easier when the Dodger Stadium fans are in full-throated roar, the Giants are in first place and the scoreboard is unfriendly.

What the Dodgers know is that it sure ain't all Kemp.

"The top of the order hasn't been good lately," second baseman Mark Ellis said. "We've got to get on base for the guys in the middle of the order.

"Matt has carried us all year. It's about time somebody else picks up the slack."

Options, the Dodgers have them. Having acquired Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez at the trade deadline, the first five hitters in the order have a different look, a different rhythm.

But Andre Ethier, ouch. He's hitting just .197 with one homer, eight RBI and 13 strikeouts in 19 games this month. He has just two homers in 37 games since the All-Star break, and he's hitting .216 against lefties.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers went 7-3 on their recent trip through Miami, Pittsburgh and Atlanta and seemingly came home at a perfect time: Hot, and with a chance to stick it to the Giants.

Instead, after these two clubs had flip-flopped between first and second place in three of the past four, Los Angeles couldn't push it to four of five on Tuesday.

"He'll be fine," Ellis said, back to Kemp. "Matt will get his hits. It's a long season. He missed six or eight weeks [with a hamstring strain].

"Sometimes you feel good coming back, but then you hit a little rough patch."

Kemp is in the thick of that patch now. The timing is strange, being that with more help around him in the lineup, you'd think he would be feasting. But there's the unpredictability of baseball.

The Dodgers love their team, love the moves they made in July. Especially the Dodgers who have been around for a few years.

"This is the team we expect to have in LA year-in and year-out," Ethier said, referring to the addition of stars like Ramirez and Victorino. "This is the team the fans expect. Unfortunately, it's taken this long to come to fruition with this caliber of players. It's nice to see."

Ethier and Kemp well remember the 2008 and 2009 NLCS runs, and these Dodgers think they're every bit as capable of a World Series run as those clubs.

"We've been there," Ethier said. "And we've been on the other end very quickly, too. You can see how quickly things can change. Part of it was the lack of effort put in [during the final year of Frank McCourt's ownership of the club].

"You come up a couple of games short of the World Series two years in a row and then make no moves to get better? You're wondering what, exactly, is the goal here?"

Given this year's moves, the Dodgers are wondering no more.

Kemp will get hot again. The tools are here. Now we'll see what they do with them.

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