But manager Don Mattingly, whose team's 1/2 game division lead once was 7 1/2, cautions that the return from the disabled list of the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters alone won't be enough to assure a trip to the postseason.
"We weren't an offensive juggernaut before," Mattingly said. "We'll still have to scratch for runs. We won't all of a sudden be the '27 Yankees and just beat people down. We have to play good baseball to win games."
Mattingly held a mandatory workout Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, where a couple thousand season-ticket holders withstood a steady rain to watch batting practice and defensive drills.
Mattingly has responded to the loss of shortstop Dee Gordon due to thumb surgery by naming Luis Cruz his primary shortstop and veteran Bobby Abreu at least a platoon leadoff hitter with Jerry Hairston and Tony Gwynn.
"Cruz has shown so far he's steady with the hands," said Mattingly. "His hands are soft, his actions are good and he's been steady."
The 40-year-old Abreu hasn't started a game batting leadoff for the Dodgers this year (he did twice for the Angels) and has never had more than 78 at-bats in a season batting first. But Mattingly said Abreu might be the best option of the players on the current roster.
"He fits up there," said Mattingly. "The on-base percentage, he runs a little bit. Being set with Matt and Andre pushes [Abreu] down in the lineup. At the top makes more sense. If [Tony] Gwynn is playing, we can use him. If Jerry is playing third, I can use him. Or if Jerry's in left and go right-handed and play Juan [Rivera] at first."
Of course, that last comment could imply that Juan Uribe, signed to be the starting third baseman, is in no-man's land. In fact, there is some speculation that the Dodgers are considering releasing Uribe (still owed roughly $10 million) as one of the roster moves to make room for the returns of Kemp and Ethier. More likely, the club will option outfielder Scott Van Slyke and utilityman Elian Herrera back to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Herrera, despite making an immediate impact when he finally got the promotion after nine years in the Minor Leagues, has been passed by Cruz. Herrera, batting .305 as recently as June 17, is 9-for-64 (.141) since.
Kemp -- after a six-game Minor League rehab assignment, another flop in the Home-Run Derby and an ESPY appearance with teammate Clayton Kershaw -- said he's ready for action.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is that we haven't played as good the past couple weeks," he said, brushing aside worries about a strained hamstring that cost him nearly two months. "We've got to give support to our pitchers who have been a big part of our success. It's going to be good to get the team back we had at the start of the season."
He said he tested the leg "at times," but said it was hard to get his body loose in the Albuquerque altitude.
"Nothing wrong with the hammy," he said. "Here in L.A., the legs are really loose. I feel confident ... I'm going to let it go, play the game the way I need to play."
Mattingly said the only real test will be when it really matters, in a big league game.
"It sounds like he was a little bit cautious, which is understandable going through it twice. I didn't want to do it again," he said. "You can't tell until he really explodes."
Gordon was allowed to swing one-handed off a tee. But his right arm is in a soft cast, the thumb immobilized by a pin inserted during surgery last week to repair a ruptured ligament. Next week the soft cast is replaced by a hard cast and in two weeks the pin is removed, allowing him to slowly resume baseball activities.
"I can't tell you my timetable," he said, "but it's quicker than theirs."
He said he doesn't plan to abandon the head-first slide that resulted in the injury, calling it a freak incident. Other than being sidelined, he said the toughest part of the injury is texting one-handed.
"Oh my God, I'm the slowest in the world," he said. "My left hand will be really good when I come back."
The Dodgers have manipulated their starting rotation so Kershaw, coming off a 27-pitch All-Star Game outing, pitches Friday night against San Diego, followed by Aaron Harang and Chad Billingsley. Chris Capuano and Nathan Eovaldi follow against Philadelphia.
Mattingly confirmed that corner infielders and a "big-time starter" are on the club's shopping list. Among the players on team radar are Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Chase Headley, Matt Garza, Michael Cuddyer and Corey Hart.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.