As the MLB postseason draws closer, the divisional races are heating up, as teams are trying to vie their way into a playoff spot. Teams in playoff contention are under more pressure, as every game starts to count more and more. Losing a few games can easily keep you out of the divisional race, while a winning streak can keep you in the hunt.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers currently trailing the San Francisco Giants by one game, it's easy to see why the NL West is one of the most intriguing and competitive divisional races in the MLB. Both teams made big moves at the trade deadline in hopes of revamping their roster and taking control of the division.
Although the acquisitions made at the deadline will certainly help both teams, it won't be the players that were dealt that will make a huge impact for the teams. Rather, one player from the southern part of California by the name of Matt Kemp will lead the Dodgers to a late season surge and a playoff berth.
Last season, Dodgers CF Matt Kemp was a MVP candidate, as he finished the season with a batting average of .324 and a home run total of 39.
At the start of the 2012 season, Kemp was back to his MVP ways, hitting .417 with 12 home runs in the month of April. He was batting .359 before going down with injury.
The Dodgers were 24-11 before Kemp was shut down, but they managed to go 23-29 without their leading hitter in the lineup.
Even with their offensive leader gone, the Dodgers somehow pulled off a six-game winning streak at one point. However, Los Angeles also had three instances where they had a losing streak of four games or more. Despite their up and down season after Kemp was listed on the DL, the Dodgers managed to hold on, and finished the first half only one game behind the NL West-leading Giants.
It was clear that Kemp's offensive presence with the Dodgers was being missed.
Without Kemp in the lineup, the Dodgers' offense has been lackluster. In the month of June, the Dodgers ranked last in the MLB in runs per game (3.2), home runs (six) and slugging percentage (.295).
In the beginning of the season, the Dodgers were among the top 15 during the month of April, and were even ranked No. 1 during the month of May. When Kemp was placed on the DL in mid-May, the Dodgers' offense started to fall apart, finishing dead last in the month of June.
Kemp has been back in the lineup with what looks to be a healthy hamstring, and has led the Dodgers to a 14-13 mark since his return.The Dodgers are currently still one game behind the Giants for the NL West lead, and two-and-a-half games for the second wild-card spot.
Kemp's return in July boosted the Dodgers offense up eight spots, good enough for 22nd in the league. Since then, the Dodgers have been inconsistent in scoring runs, but they've been slowly moving up the ranks in offense as Kemp is finding his swinging groove.
Even with the addition of Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino, the Dodgers still rank in the bottom portion of most offensive categories—their hitting has been futile and inconsistent since the All-Star break.
As he has been easing himself back into this lineup, things are starting to come together for Kemp as he is hitting .382 in the month of August with a slugging percentage of .618. With the offensive talent that Kemp possesses, you've got to believe that with the more games he plays, the hotter his bat will get at the plate.
Who will win the highly competitive NL West
Undoubtedly the leader of the team, Kemp's offensive impact is vital to the Dodgers, and the numbers are clear how important he is to this team.
The saying goes, "Numbers don't lie," and this is the case with Matt Kemp. The lack of run-production that the Dodgers have without Kemp is obvious. Every offensive category from home runs, slugging percentage, and batting average takes a huge slide downhill.
When Kemp hits the ball well, the Dodgers hit the ball well.
Simply, the Dodgers are most dangerous when Matt Kemp is on point, and LA's playoff run will lie in the hands of their star slugger.