Los Angeles Dodgers: Is Andre Ethier the Biggest Threat to a Triple Crown?

Geoff RatliffContributor IIIMay 3, 2012

DENVER, CO - MAY 02:  Matt Kemp #27 and Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers score in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 2, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated Ddogers 8-5.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Matt Kemp is off to a terrific start in 2012 following a breakout 2011 season. Through the season’s first 26 games, Kemp is leading the National League in batting average (.411), home runs (12), and is second in runs batted in (25) behind teammate Andre Ethier.

As teams start to respect Kemp’s bat more, he is increasingly seeing more walks, as evidenced by last night’s three-walk affair against Colorado. He is currently tied for fourth in the NL with 17 free passes, a number that is certain to rise as his torrid hitting continues. This will obviously result in less RBI chances for Kemp, but it will also mean more opportunities for Ethier, who hits directly behind him in the cleanup spot in the Dodgers’ lineup.

Ethier is an accomplished hitter in his own right, having hit a career-best 31 homers and with 106 runs batted in in 2009 at age 27. After two injury plagued seasons in 2010 and 2011, Ethier enters 2012 looking to answer many of the same questions that faced Kemp prior to last season.

Ethier is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, and many speculated  that the Dodgers would evaluate his first half carefully, intending to make a decision on his future before the July 31st trade deadline. With the Dodgers’ ownership situation now settled, and fan interest in the team back to expected levels, Ethier seems intent on proving that he, along with Kemp, deserves to be a cornerstone for the team’s immediate future.

As long as National League rivals are intent on not letting Kemp beat them, Ethier will be the primary beneficiary of that generosity. Ironically, that means that he could serve as the primary impediment to Kemp’s quest to become the first National League Triple Crown winner since St. Louis Cardinals’ left fielder (and former Brooklyn Dodger) Joe Medwick in 1937.