Weekend Preview: Improving Matt Kemp, Dodgers Begin Roadie Tonight in Atlanta
Rebounding from an eight-game losing streak with victories in four of their last five, the Dodgers have hit the road. Beginning tonight at 4:30 p.m. it's three at Atlanta followed by three in the former home of the Braves, in Milwaukee to face the Brewers.
While we wouldn't use the word "surging" to describe L.A.'s recent state of play exactly, back-to-back series wins and a 17-22 record looks a whole lot better than the previous 13-21 and buried in last by two and a half games. In fact, with any luck and the Padres losers of four out of five, the Dodgers could pull into fourth place, as close as five games back of the Giants by the end of play Friday.
But first things first. Buoyed by star performances from Clayton Kershaw and fresh-off-the-disabled-list Zack Greinke Tuesday and Wednesday, Los Angeles sends 4-2 Hyun-Jin Ryu to the hill opposite 4-3 Paul Maholm in game one. Maholm started his free agent walk year with three straight wins and nary a run allowed, earned or otherwise. Since then he's 1-3 with an ERA of 6.94.
Chris Capuano hopes to build on the 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball his last time out, Saturday at 4:10 p.m. versus the Braves' Kris Medlen, who's 1-5 with a 3.44. Medlen sports a 6.25 since April 21, during which time his club has lost 14 of 23 games, including five of the last six. Sunday's 10:35 a.m. game is the Dodgers toughest matchup, featuring Matt Magill (10 earned runs in 13 innings) versus Mike Minor (5-2, 2.75, with a 0.97 WHIP).
Few doubt that the hopes of Los Angeles rest firmly on the broad shoulders of one Matt Kemp. Since one of those shoulders -- the left, and the labrum to be precise -- was operated on last October, Kemp has yet to regain the power best exemplified during his 39 home run, 126 RBI, near-MVP season of 2011. Some say he never will, but I tend to lean in the direction of Matt Kemp.
And it makes sense that without a properly-working batting stroke of any kind, you're not going to see the power stroke. Kemp's average was at .100 a week into the season and as low as .182 on April 17. He's hit .340 since, is at .351 in May, and has managed to contribute a clutch hit here and there. You have to start someplace, and for a man who's had his strength sapped by surgery, who started out as slowly as can be, who plays against all comers despite his manager's preseason insistence that he'd get his fair share of rest, Kemp's done pretty damn well.
So maybe the Dodgers' franchise player won't match his 2011 numbers this year, or ever again. Perhaps he will. Either way I believe in Matt Kemp, and I can't imagine a scenario where he won't find a way to help his team win.
L.A. is looking better in recent days while the Braves are struggling a little bit. The Dodgers catch them at a good time, and it's all about winning series. Let's see if Los Angeles can take a couple this weekend, and cross the bridge to Wisconsin when we get there.
Check this great off-day interview with A.J. Ellis, by Mark Saxon of ESPNLA.com.
The LA Times' Dylan Hernandez talks to Dodger trainer Sue Falsone about the team's various ailments and cures so far this year.
MLB.com is auctioning off some fine stuff, including a "game used" Juan Uribe locker room name plate, with a $75 opening bid, although I'm not sure how you can use a name plate during a game. Ted Lilly and Josh Beckett name plates are available too, along with some clubhouse chairs and the like.
Sons of Steve Garvey has been my favorite Dodgers blog for years because it's a mix of baseball analysis and just plain fun. Great writing and snark without the mean-spiritedness of the competition. Here's a post on the strange things a boy -- or a man -- can do to a baseball card that are a tad less destructive than the old between-the-spokes-of-a-bicycle trick.
Inspired by SOSG, I turn to Bob Uecker, who we'll see in Milwaukee. Best known for his baseball comedy routines with Johnny Carson (including "passed ball school"), the old Miller Lite commercials ("great seats, hey buddy") and Major League ("juuuusstt a bit outside"), Ueck was also a big league ballplayer. And a bad one.
Johnny: "How many home runs did you hit in your career, Bob?"
Uecker: "Oh, I banged out 14 of em."
Below is Uecker's 1965 Topps card. There's the trademark smile, and the jokes on us, or on the baseball card company. Compare the '65 to all his others and you'll notice one difference. This card shows the always right-hand hitting backup catcher posing left-handed.