Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp watches his solo home run leave the field… (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images )
Reporting from Denver
This story should have been about Matt Kemp's emergence as a candidate to become the National League's most valuable player.
Instead, it is about why he might not be seriously considered for the award: He plays for the Dodgers.
On a night when Kemp fell a single short of hitting for the cycle and drove in three runs, the Dodgers' pitching unraveled and blew a four-run lead in a 9-7 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
With Kemp hitting his way to the top of the league's long-ball leaderboard — his home run in the fourth inning was his NL-best 18th — the Dodgers appeared to be making incremental progress in the last two weeks.
But the defeat Thursday dropped them to six games under .500 and moved them into a tie with the San Diego Padres for last place in the NL West. Kemp's heroics were obscured once again by the team's shortcomings.
"That's a rough one," Manager Don Mattingly said.
Shut out in Philadelphia the previous night, the Dodgers built a 4-0 lead that they took into the sixth inning. Kemp drove in three of those runs, one on a home run and two on a fifth-inning triple.
When the Rockies cut the margin to 4-3 in the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers immediately responded with three runs in the top of the seventh and moved back ahead by four runs, 7-3.
What appeared to be a breakthrough was only a prelude to a nightmare.
Clayton Kershaw started the bottom of the seventh inning by giving up back-to-back singles to Charlie Blackmon and Jose Morales. He walked Eric Young Jr., loading load the bases.
Mattingly replaced Kershaw with left-hander Scott Elbert, who gave up a run-scoring single to Carlos Gonzalez and walked Todd Helton with the bases loaded.
Mattingly called on Mike MacDougal to replace Elbert and face Troy Tulowitzki, who singled to the opposite field, driving in two runs and tying the score, 7-7. MacDougal later walked pinch-hitter Jason Giambi with the bases loaded, forcing in the go-ahead run.
The Rockies added an insurance run the next inning.
Kershaw, who held the Rockies scoreless through five innings, looked shaky in the home team's three-run sixth inning. But Mattingly said he didn't question his decision to send Kershaw back to the mound for the seventh.
"You trust him," Mattingly said.
Kershaw, who was charged with six runs and seven hits in six-plus innings, was visibly frustrated after the game.
"It's not fun to lose," Kershaw said. "It's not fun to lose when you have a lead. … It's definitely frustrating, especially when we have guys swinging the bats well."
Particularly the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters.
Andre Ethier was three for four with a double, a run and two runs batted in, raising his average to .335.
Kemp was three for five, his lone regret being that he struck out with Ethier on second in the ninth inning.
Mattingly said Kemp, who is batting .329, should be considered for the MVP award.
"Why not?" Mattingly said. "He's hitting for average. He's hitting for power. He gets big hits. He's a base-stealer. He's a defender. There's not much more you can ask from a guy."