Sarah's Take: Dodgers OK even without Kemp

Sarah's Take: Dodgers OK even without Kemp

Sarah's Take: Dodgers OK even without Kemp
Last Wednesday, in his second game after coming off the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, Matt Kemp strained the same hamstring, but in a different area.

Now, the Dodgers expect Kemp to miss at least a month. How they deal with the loss of their best player will help to determine the outcome of the National League West. Although injuries are an integral part of the game, the Dodgers have had more than their share. Despite their recent five-game losing streak, they still have the best record in the Majors. This year they have used the disabled list 13 times -- the third most in the Majors.

When Kemp first injured his left hamstring, he attempted to continue playing. After a brilliant month of April, Kemp suffered the injury in Chicago on a defensive play in early May. Although he had played in 399 consecutive games -- the longest in the Majors at the time -- it was obvious that the hamstring bothered him. After missing a couple of starts, Kemp returned to the starting lineup, but he didn't look like himself and didn't attempt to steal a base.

A week after he first felt pain in his left hamstring, Kemp felt another tweak in the muscle while running out a ground ball, and the Dodgers immediately ordered an MRI. It confirmed that he'd suffered a strain. Since Kemp first felt the problem, many members of the media urged the Dodgers to put Kemp on the DL. After the MRI, the team made the move.

During the period that Kemp couldn't play, Los Angeles surprised practically everyone when it had nine wins out of 14 games. The team worked together, having a different hero every night. Since Kemp wanted to rejoin his teammates and help them to win as quickly as possible, he worked incredibly hard on his rehabilitation program.

After 15 days, including a two-game rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he hit two homers, Kemp returned to the active roster and the starting lineup. This is a rarity with leg injuries. Since everything that a baseball player does involve his legs, getting a leg injury healed fully enough to withstand the rigors of the game is difficult. This was evident with Kemp.

In the first inning of his second game back from the disabled list, Kemp scored from first base on a double. Rounding third base, he began to slow. After a brief conversation with manager Don Mattingly, Kemp, visibly frustrated, broke a bat over his knee and exited the game.

The next day, an MRI revealed that Kemp had a Grade 1 strain, which was higher up on the leg than the original strain in the left hamstring. A Grade 1 strain is the mildest, where no muscle fibers are torn. However, a high hamstring injury is much more difficult to heal and rehabilitate than a strain lower in the hamstring. Many people around the Dodgers don't expect to see Kemp until after the All-Star break.

While the Dodgers maintained the best record in baseball when Kemp was disabled the first time, it will be much harder to do so this time around. In June, they play only nine games at Dodger Stadium. The club plays 15 Interleague games, and it'll likely need more offensive production to win vs. American League clubs. The Dodgers would have liked to have used Kemp as their designated hitter in AL stadiums. They also must play in San Francisco against the surging Giants -- the only team in the NL West that appears to be able to challenge them.

The Dodgers have had timely hitting that has helped them to take advantage of most scoring opportunities. They have scored the fifth-most runs in the NL, and they can do better when Dee Gordon and James Loney begin to hit the way they can. In Kemp's absence, Andre Ethier has been spectacular at driving in runs, and he leads the league in that category. The acquisition of Bobby Abreu has provided the Dodgers with an experienced, accomplished hitter who knows how to work deep in the counts. The surprising offensive production from A.J. Ellis, who deserves to be an All-Star, has also helped to compensate for the loss of Kemp.

As usual, the Dodgers have had solid pitching, but it can also be a cause for concern. Although the starting rotation has the second-lowest ERA in the league, the starters appear to be weakening. In his past three starts, Clayton Kershaw has had trouble keeping the ball low, so he has been more prone to surrendering home runs. He also appears to have fallen in love with his slider and hasn't used either his blazing fastball or knee-buckling curveball enough.

Chad Billingsley has had control problems since mid-April. His ineffectiveness and inability to go at least seven innings in a start have put additional stress on an overtaxed bullpen.

Chris Capuano's performance and the emergence of rookie Nate Eovaldi have helped to steady the starting rotation. If Ted Lilly, who is out with a shoulder injury, can return after the All-Star break and pitch the way he did in April and early May, the starting rotation should continue as one of the best in baseball.

At the beginning of the season, the Dodgers' bullpen was in flux. Since Kenley Jansen assumed the role of closer, everything has fallen into place for the relievers. The emergence of Josh Lindblom and re-emergence of Ronald Belisario has made the bullpen a strength. Even with Javy Guerra going on the disabled list Monday with a knee injury, the bullpen will be a comfort for Los Angeles.

If the Dodgers continue playing as a team and the rookies continue playing well, they should maintain their lead in the NL West during Kemp's absence.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.