The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves are now tied at a game apiece for the National League Division Series title. Matt Kemp watched both games from the bench and will likely do the same for the entirety of the Dodgers' 2013 playoff run.
Fortunately for Dodgers fans, the absence of Kemp may not be all that big of a deal. Sure, you're missing a guy who threatens 40-40 numbers when healthy, but looking back on the year, the Dodgers have done fine without him.
Here, we'll count down the nine major factors that show why Kemp's injury does not mean a shortened Dodger postseason.
Dodgers' part-owner and former NBA star Magic Johnson went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was given a Speedo as a gift from its host in reference to the Dodgers' celebration after clinching the NL West. The Speedo was presented after the two talked about the Dodgers and, as seen in the video above, Johnson agreed to don the Speedo if the team managed to win the World Series.
I'm not saying this will necessarily give the Dodgers more incentive, but it does show one of their owners is committed to the team. Who knows...he may not do it even if they do win, but as Nick Schwartz of USA Today pointed out, Johnson does have experience revealing some upper thigh.
When Yasiel Puig was called up from the minors in June this year, the Dodgers were in last place in the NL West at 24-32. By the time the All-Star break (July 16) had rolled around, they were just 2.5 games back at 47-47. It is no accident that Puig almost made it into the All-Star Game despite only having 151 at-bats at that time.
Since then, he has cooled off quite considerably but still finished the year with 19 home runs and a .319 batting average. If his aggressiveness can continue to spark the Dodgers—and with all his talent, I don't see why not—they are a much more dangerous team.
Carl Crawford looks to (finally!) have settled in nicely with a team other than Tampa Bay. After a disappointing 2011 season and an injury-shortened 2012 season (both with the Red Sox), the Dodgers took a chance on the four-time All-Star. He has improved this year to become a consistent hitter (.283 batting average).
In addition, with Yasiel Puig in right and Carl Crawford in left, the Dodgers have speed protecting the lines in the outfield.
Dodger fans will only see their team play twice in L.A. during the NLDS, but that may be good news. Not gaining home-field advantage may be a downer for most teams, but not the Dodgers. They led the National League during the regular season with 42 road wins.
A good team is not a championship team until it is led by an equally capable coach. As a former player, Don Mattingly knows the psyche of the MLB player like few others do and can therefore approach problems and decisions with both the individual and team in mind.
The video above is an interview with Mattingly after his Dodgers clinched the NL West. It shows how genuinely happy he is to have made it to the playoffs with his guys. You can see a mix of excitement and pride in his face...a look that I'm sure comes out in his managerial responsibilities. It's the face of a man who was not too long ago in danger of losing his job but is now on top of the world.
His capable skills were on display in his press conference after the regular-season game in which he took Puig out.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has made quite the impact during his few healthy games this season. If the Dodgers hope to keep up their winning ways, Ramirez will have to play at that level in the playoffs as well.
Essentially lost in the media spotlight surrounding Yasiel Puig, Ramirez played an integral role in the Dodgers' record-breaking stretch this year. After back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2011 and 2012, during which he battled injury, Ramirez hit .345 with 20 home runs in just 336 plate appearances in 2013.
The video above says it all: "The Dodgers aren't just hot; they're this good."
Their 42-8 stretch is pretty historic, too.
Just how historic, you ask?
Since 1900, only four other teams have had equal-or-better 50-game stretches. The 1941 Yankees and 1942 Cardinals both had 42-8 stretches. The 1912 Giants went 43-7 during a run. But the 1906 Cubs have the best 50-game record, going 45-5.
Every one of those teams went on to the World Series that year.
I realize the above video is seven minutes long, so unless you love watching Clayton Kershaw making a fool out of the entire MLB as much as I do, then I suggest looking at these three specific moments: 3:55, 5:59 and 6:16.
3:55—He just made a professional baseball player look that ugly swinging at a 92 mph fastball.
5:59—The best curveball in the league.
I could have made a list that looked something like this: 10. Kershaw's funky delivery, 9. Kershaw's fastball, 8. Kershaw's curveball, 7. Kershaw's command, and on and on.
Although Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) is undoubtedly the best pitcher in the NL (arguably all of MLB), the Dodgers may also have one of the best overall pitching staffs. Piggybacking off of colleague here, the Dodgers' staff has really carried them through the season.
Key additions Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 ERA) have bolstered the core of the starting rotation, and closer Kenley Jansen (28 saves, 1.88 ERA and an unconscious 13 K/9) has solidified the bullpen.
Their team ERA (2.76) leads the majors. And who's in second? Why, their opponents in the NLDS, the Atlanta Braves (2.97).
The Dodgers are 92-70.
Kemp has only played in 73 of those games.
They were 37-36 with him.
They were 55-34 without him.
What's that saying? The proof is in the pudding?