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At their worst, the Dodgers have two of the best

Matt Kemp should win the MVP award and Clayton Kershaw the Cy Young Award, despite their team's poor record.

September 01, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, left, is congratulated by teammate Matt Kemp after pitching a complete-game shutout against Detroit on June 20. Kershaw and Kemp are playing the best baseball of their careers despite the team's struggles on and off the field.
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, left, is congratulated by teammate Matt… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

It would be a sight as odd and unsettling as it is beautiful, sunflowers stretching above weeds, sunlight streaking through dusk.

But in a season of wrong, nothing would be more right.

Did you hear that a Dodgers team populated with misery and mediocrity could soon be adding two more notable players to their clubhouse?

Guys by the name of Cy Young and MVP.

Why not? Who says it can't happen? Does greatness on the field really have to be diluted by dullness in the standings?

As of this column, Clayton Kershaw is the National League's best pitcher, and Matt Kemp is the National League's best player, and if they are still dominating when the season ends in a month, why should anything else matter?

Of course, when National League writers are faced with the idea of handing out the most coveted awards to players from the most disappointing franchise, many other things will matter, and the voters will soon be awash in arguments by raging fans from Milwaukee to Philadelphia.

Let me start this debate by saying there should be no debate.

Matt Kemp is in the league's top four in batting, home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases while holding down the game's premier defensive position in center field. His resume is more complete than his top contenders, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, and his singular impact on the Dodgers is far greater than either one.

Folks in Milwaukee will complain that Kemp hasn't played in enough meaningful games, and that Braun and Fielder have been more valuable because they are leading their team into the playoffs. Funny, but those same fans cheered Robin Yount when he won an MVP for the Brewers in 1989 while playing for a fourth-place team that won only half of its games.

This may sound odd coming from a writer who supported Kirk Gibson's 76-RBI MVP award for the champion Dodgers in 1988, but unless a player is clearly the one difference-maker on a playoff team, I believe the MVP should go to the best guy, period. In fact, instructions on the baseball writers' MVP ballot read, "The MVP need not come from a division winner or other player qualifiers."

Employees of The Times are not allowed to vote for awards, so I have no vote, but if I did, right now I would choose Kemp, although this race will be close.

"At this moment, Matt Kemp is the best player in the National League," said Tim Brown, national baseball columnist for Yahoo Sports and one of this year's MVP voters. ''But it's all about what happens in the next month, and there will be some concerns that the Dodgers haven't played a meaningful game since 2010."

The Cy Young Award does not contain the word "valuable," and thus it is much easier to define, and easier to award, and it should not be close. It's the best pitcher, and that's Kershaw, as he ranks in the league's top two in wins, earned-run average, strikeouts, WHIP and batting average against while pitching for a team that ranks 11th in the league in runs scored.

I can already hear the Philadelphia Phillies fans crying that Roy Halladay has done nearly as well as Kershaw under much greater pressure, contributing to a much better record, but history turns their argument lame. Some of those same folks were surely cheering in 1972 when Steve Carlton won a Cy Young Award while pitching for a Phillies team that won 59 games.

No, I would never compare Kershaw's probable-20-win season to the year that Carlton won an amazing 27 games for that last-place bunch. But you don't even need to look back a full year to see how winning means nothing for this award, as Seattle's Felix Hernandez won last season with a 13-12 record for a Mariners team that finished with the worst record in the American League.

Any other year in this town, these are just trophies handed out at November luncheons that are soon forgotten. Heck, the Dodgers have won both the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same season four times. But in each of those seasons, they won either at least 100 games or the World Series.

For the Dodgers to complete the doubleheader sweep this year would be not only historic, but cleansing, the worst season in Dodgers history ending with the greatest possible start to a new one.

"With everyone else in the country looking at this organization like we're in disarray, for us to win both the MVP and the Cy Young would be huge,'' said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. "It would show everyone that, hey, this is where we're building from."

There is hope in the manager's office and hope in the clubhouse, where Kershaw admits the talk is "flattering" while Kemp acknowledges he will dream.

"To win something like that would be a blessing," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It's something you work for. You want to be the best."

Indeed, amid this season's mud bath, a blessing. Here's hoping the voters can see beyond the grime.

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