How the Dodgers Can Win It All Even If Matt Kemp Never Returns

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How the Dodgers Can Win It All Even If Matt Kemp Never Returns
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Two years removed from being dominant and durable for the Los Angeles Dodgers, outfielder Matt Kemp no longer exemplifies either adjective.

The latest reminder of this comes from Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times, who tweets that Kemp's season is in doubt:

Hold back your tears, Dodgers fans. This juggernaut of a team is capable of clinching a World Series without any more at-bats from one of its most prominent players.

Kemp has battled lower-body injuries since Memorial Day, specifically those affecting his hamstring and ankle. Even if active, it's unlikely that he'd influence games with his baserunning and extra-base power like he did from 2011-2012.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have exploded into the odds-on favorite in the National League. After many weeks of inconsistency, they now meet most of the criteria in Zachary Rymer's thorough championship blueprint.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Clayton Kershaw is a top-tier starting pitcher, and he's in that tier all by himself.

The postseason demands that contenders trust their top four starting pitchers. No quartet rivals Clayton Kershaw (1.89 ERA in 209.0 IP), Zack Greinke (2.78 ERA in 148.2 IP), Ricky Nolasco (3.26 ERA in 179.2 IP) and Hyun-jin Ryu (3.02 ERA in 167.0 IP). Greinke and Nolasco, in particular, have pitched their best in the season's second half and proven that success can be sustained with a pedestrian strikeout rate.

L.A. doesn't have the luxury of a powerful lineup, but they're arguably better off with players who work the count and put balls in play. The starting infield is very sound defensively, and with reserves like Nick Punto and Michael Young, the Dodgers wouldn't be undone by a sudden injury.

Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez are perhaps the most underrated late-inning relief duo in baseball. Per FanGraphs, here's how they compare to other notable eighth-ninth combinations:

MLB Late-Inning Duos
Team Eighth/Ninth Relievers K/BB fWAR
Atlanta Braves Luis Avilan/Craig Kimbrel 115/38 2.6
Detroit Tigers Drew Smyly/Joaquin Benoit 131/34 2.6
Los Angeles Dodgers Paco Rodriguez/Kenley Jansen 158/27 3.2
New York Yankees David Robertson/Mariano Rivera 117/26 2.7

If you didn't know, now you know.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Kemp's fielding in center field fools the public. Although he's a smooth glider who occasionally makes eye-popping catches, he ultimately hurts the Dodgers with his wild throws and unimpressive instincts.

Andre Ethier is a better fit for the position if we go by Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating (or anything else besides a basic eye test). Although his .791 OPS isn't quite vintage Kemp, it trumps replacement-level production.

Of course, media darling—No, what's the opposite of media darling? Media nemesis?—Yasiel Puig makes or breaks this club.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

His first few games of September have looked a whole lot like his historic June, so his bat shouldn't be portrayed as anything less than dynamic. For all the nitpicking about Puig missing cutoff men, his reputation seems to intimidate the opposition. You'll seldom find another right fielder with hold percentages this high, per Baseball-Reference.com.

While it's true that his own baserunning can be counterproductive, it doesn't come close to negating his other immense contributions.

Entering Friday night, the Dodgers have posted a 52-25 record during games in which Kemp doesn't participate. It's been nearly three months since they last suffered more than two consecutive losses.

Let's assume Matt Kemp doesn't play. Are the Los Angeles Dodgers favorites to win the 2013 World Series?

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The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox—among others—possess sufficient talent, depth and discipline to upset L.A. in a playoff series. That's how competitive balance works.

However, all things considered, the Dodgers wholly deserve their top ranking and our trust, regardless of Kemp's availability.

 

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