The look on Matt Kemp's face says it all. After injuring his hamstring on May 13th in Colorado, the Dodgers knew they needed some key players to step up and fill the monstrous void left by Kemp. The Dodgers have responded by going 9-4 and expanding their major league-leading record to 32-15.
How has this happened? Matt Kemp had been the hottest hitter outside of Josh Hamilton this season, hitting over .400 while also blasting 12 home runs. The production of Kemp fueled the Dodgers to a league best 23-11 record.
The loss of Matt Kemp to the 15-Day DL would hinder previous Dodger teams, but this year's team has embraced the challenge and has continued their winning ways.
There is no "I" in team. Since Matt Kemp's injury the Dodgers have actually improved their runs per game from 4.3 to 5.1. Albeit a small sample size, Don Mattingly's club is playing team baseball this season, which is the main reason why they have the best record in baseball. LA has flexed their muscles by surviving a plague of injuries affecting Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston, Juan Rivera and of course, Matt Kemp.
Four Dodgers in particular have stepped up their efforts to lead their team to the top of the major league standings.
Elian Herrera has done an excellent job adding power and a solid batting average to the second base position that became void after the life-threatening leg injury to Mark Ellis on May 19th.
Herrera was called up from AAA on May 14th (the day Kemp was placed on the DL) and has responded by batting .342 and playing a solid defensive second base for the Dodgers. Herrera is presently on an eight-game hitting streak and is capitalizing on his opportunities in the major leagues.
Rookie players sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pressure and expectations that get placed on them, but Herrera is responding perfectly for Don Mattingly and will be a key piece for the Dodgers as the season continues without the bat of Mark Ellis.
Don't look now, but A.J. Ellis is playing more and more like an All-Star Catcher. Although big names like Brian McCann and Yadier Molina will receive lots of votes, deeper research will show the true value that A.J. Ellis has brought to the Dodgers.
Ellis is hitting .317 this season with five home runs and 23 RBI. His biggest hit came on Saturday when he blasted a three-run walk-off homer against the Houston Astros.
The work Ellis puts in at the dish, ninth in OPS in the NL, has been key in this stretch without Kemp. His clutch hitting has given the Dodgers the kind of production they haven't seen from the catching position since Russell Martin hit 19 home runs and drove in 87 RBI in 2007.
Seven innings, two hits and one earned run is just a typical day for Chris Capuano. On Sunday May 27th, Capuano led the Dodgers to their ninth win without Matt Kemp, a 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros.
Capuano not only logs quality starts every time for the Dodgers, but has now improved his record to 7-1 on the season with a 2.14 ERA. Since Kemp's injury, Capuano is 3-1 and continues to fool hitters at the dish, logging 58 strikeouts (10th in the National League).
The 33-year-old left-hander, who was signed this offseason from the New York Mets, has emerged as the undisputed No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw.
Expect Capuano to continue leading the Dodgers' rotation, which has recorded a 3.30 ERA since Kemp's absence from the lineup. This is impressive noting the stress a staff endures when a big-name superstar such as Kemp leaves for an extended period of time.
When Bobby Abreu was picked up by the Dodgers on May 4th, Dodger Land thought the 38-year-old Abreu was more of a veteran leader than a contributor. Injuries to Matt Kemp and Juan Rivera opened the door for Abreu's torrid run at the plate.
Since his arrival to the Dodgers, Abreu is hitting .327 with 11 runs scored and six RBI. Abreu, who probably possess the best set of eyes in the majors, has accumulated 11 walks in 21 games, which is one of the main reasons behind his .439 on-base percentage.
His vision at the plate has resonated with his Dodger teammates as well. According to Tony Jackson's Article on ESPN Los Angeles, Don Mattingly praises the influence of Abreu, stating that Bobby has rubbed off on guys. The Dodgers are becoming a more patient team at the dish and are forcing opposing pitchers to go deeper into counts thus leaving games earlier than desired.
This can be best exhibited by the Dodgers' approach in the box on Saturday, May 26 against Houston pitcher Bud Norris. Norris pitched 4.2 innings and allowed only three runs, but that performance took 116 pitches. Abreu true to form, added a walk that evening, highlighting his leadership and influence on the Dodgers' lineup.
Matt Kemp is expected to return from injury on Tuesday versus the Milwaukee Brewers. How will his return affect the lineup and the rotation?
The return of Kemp to the lineup may not drastically affect the Dodgers' run production and team ERA, but will keep the team with the best record in baseball going strong.