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

Ely SussmanCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 08:  Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers watches from the dugout during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 8, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 6-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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:

Matt Kemp has suffered rehab setback, this time with a hamstring, reports Kevin Baxter. Said Mattingly: "At some point we run out of time."

— Steve Dilbeck (@stevedilbeck) September 6, 2013

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.

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
TeamEighth/Ninth RelieversK/BBfWAR
Atlanta BravesLuis Avilan/Craig Kimbrel115/382.6
Detroit TigersDrew Smyly/Joaquin Benoit131/342.6
Los Angeles DodgersPaco Rodriguez/Kenley Jansen158/273.2
New York YankeesDavid Robertson/Mariano Rivera117/262.7

If you didn't know, now you know.

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.

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.

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.