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T.J. Simers

Dodgers' fortunes took biggest hit when Matt Kemp hit the wall

Matt Kemp is the Dodgers' unquestioned leader, a superstar who can carry a team to glory. But after he injured his shoulder running into a wall in Colorado, his average sunk and do did the team.

September 26, 2012|T.J. Simers

SAN DIEGO — I drove down here alone so that I'll have plenty of room upon my return to bring back any Chargers wanting an early start finding a place to live in Los Angeles.

While here I thought I might as well ride the Choking Dogs for going belly up after boasting the best record in baseball and then collapsing when adding better players.

What a wasted opportunity. As this season now comes to a close, the only hope is that some replacement official rules the Dodgers and Cardinals have simultaneous possession of the final wild card.

Take away the first 10 games of the season with the Dodgers going 9-1 and beating up on the Padres and over the next 144 games, it is San Diego at 72-72 with the better record than the Dodgers' 70-74.

That's disgraceful. That's a payroll of around $52 million improving over time while a payroll of $149 million backslides.

So what went wrong?

Two words: Matt Kemp.

He means that much to the Dodgers, the team coming on strong last season with Kemp posting MVP numbers and starting fast again this season, hitting .359 through.34 games.

The guy is a superstar, maturing into the acknowledged team leader. But this season his body betrayed him.

And the Dodgers really aren't much without him.

A pair of hamstring injuries took their toll, but nothing like Kemp's attempt to run through a wall in Colorado.

The Dodgers had just made a deal with Boston, the Giants had lost Melky Cabrera to a drug suspension and a playoff berth was a given.

But Kemp ran into the wall face and shoulder first, initially thinking he had broken his jaw only to awaken the next morning and find no feeling in his left shoulder.

To those who wonder if Kemp is healthy now and what went wrong with the Dodgers, his .158 batting average with two home runs and six RBIs in the last 20 games answers both questions.

"I want to play — hurt or not," Kemp says upon the first attempt to dig deep into his shoulder. "I think everyone in this clubhouse is probably hurt in some way."

He's reluctant to say so, but he finally admits to feeling pain when he swings a bat. And anyone who has watched Kemp swing the bat with the gusto that he does is probably now wincing as well.

By the way, the smudge that always seems to be there on his left shoulder when he comes to the plate is pine tar from his bat while swinging so hard during warmups in the on-deck circle.

"I won't make excuses and it's weird to even answer these questions," he says. "But the fact is it's a frayed labrum, what you would basically call a partially torn labrum."

Will he require surgery?

"I don't know," he says, while declining to get the final answer until there are no more games to be won.

"I don't know what I need to do to make it feel better, but I'm going to finish out this season and help put our team in a situation where we can still make the playoffs."

Now you can add a sore left elbow to Kemp's woes, getting hit by a pitch in the sixth inning here and later adding a dose of embarrassment to the mix when caught rounding third a few steps too far.

He doesn't get on base very often these days, so you can understand his eagerness to touch them all.

Now while everyone remains puzzled why the Dodgers can't hit as a team after adding so much wallop to the lineup, I go back to Kemp's injury.

The charismatic Kemp is the life of the clubhouse and dugout, the player who really wants to be great while willing to carry everyone on his shoulders if necessary.

As he says, "Chris Paul is my idol," loving the way Paul embraces his Clippers' role as both gritty competitor and leader.

Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez are too new to the group to assert themselves and both seem unwilling to carry the team.

The role has never really suited Andre Ethier.

"I like being considered one of the best," Kemp says, hours before making the final out of a 2-1 loss. "But obviously this is just another one of those roadblocks that I'll have to get past."

Just wait until next year.


THE NEW owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune have told their writers to support the push for a new Chargers stadium here.

Columnist Tim Sullivan took issue with such a small-town directive and was fired.

Columnist Nick Canepa, though, should get a raise.

Canepa took exception to the suggestion the Chargers might be moving to Los Angeles now that AEG is for sale and might have an owner more interested in making an NFL deal.

Canepa wrote recently, "If the Chargers ever have threatened to move to Los Angeles or anywhere else, I'd like somebody to show me the quote. Good luck. There isn't one to find. We, the media, and the fans and the L.A. wannabes are the ones who have manufactured the threats."

That's not entirely true. It wasn't the media who met with Philip Anschutz to discuss a sales price for the Chargers in preliminary discussions to move the team to Los Angeles. It was Chargers owner Dean Spanos, a.k.a. one of the Spanos Goofs.

If there's no threat of the Chargers moving, why is Spanos talking to Anschutz as well as reps from the City of Industry?

As for finding a threatening quote, it's a columnist's red herring. Why would the Chargers threaten to leave San Diego if still trying to sell tickets here?

I'm not sure anyone in L.A. really cares if the Chargers come north, but it's kind of like the Dodgers: We're probably just stuck with them.

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