When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Matt Kemp back in December, many didn’t know what to expect. After all, the only reason he returned was because the Atlanta Braves took on some of the Dodgers’ bigger contracts. This allowed Los Angeles to minimize their luxury tax penalty.
There were reports that Kemp could be traded again before Spring Training. Sources said they were shopping him to Milwaukee in a potential swap for Ryan Braun. That never materialized.
When Kemp went into Arizona healthy, and in great physical shape and conditioning, many didn’t know what a reunion would look like. That was especially true since he and the Dodgers didn’t part on the best of terms back in the winter of 2014.
Matt Kemp: An Unlikely Feel Good Story
However, the 33-year-old Kemp seemed determined to put the past behind him and start fresh with the Dodgers while being excited to be apart of a championship-caliber team.
Some believed he would bat anywhere between fifth and seventh in the lineup. He would probably have a .270 or .280 batting average, hit around 30 home runs and drive in 75-80 runs while playing below average defense in the outfield and strike out a lot.
Instead, all Kemp has done since the start of the season is hit…and hit…and hit some more. He has been playing like an All-Star leading the National League in batting average at .353 and is second in the entire MLB in that department. Only Mookie Betts (.359) of the Boston Red Sox has a higher batting average.
He is also sixth in the league in slugging percentage (.599) and eighth in OBP (.983). Recently, Kemp was named the NL Player of the Week for the week of May 28 – June 3. The veteran batted .429 that week with three home runs, eight RBI, and had a 1.411 OPS.
For a Dodgers team that has struggled through the first half of the season with injuries and inconsistencies, Kemp has been one of the few consistent players for LA. He is also currently leading the team in WAR.
Was this expected?
Nobody could have expected the reigning NL champs with a talented core that includes Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, and Yasiel Puig would see Kemp emerge as the number one guy.
However, Seager is done for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Turner is trying to return to form after missing nearly two months with a broken wrist. Bellinger has been in a sophomore slump, and Puig is only now starting to get rolling.
With all that, somebody needed to step up, right? It’s obviously great that the Dodgers front office decided not to trade Kemp after all. Who knows where this team would be without him?
The Dodgers are trending upwards. They have won 14 of their last 19 games and are only two games out of first place in the division. There are other reasons why this team has turned a corner, but the renaissance of Kemp and his brilliant hitting is a big reason.
His stellar play shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a two-time All-Star, Gold Glover, and a former MVP finalist (which he should have won). However, after a couple of difficult seasons on losing teams which included injuries combined with being on the wrong side of 30, some thought Kemp might have been done.
Kemp, for his and the Dodgers own good, has shown that he still has gas left in the tank. A change to familiar scenery might have been all he needed.