With the worst 40-game start in franchise history, the Los Angeles Dodgers were written off for the season. But Saturday night marked the second consecutive trip to the World Series for the Dodgers, and the first for a handful of players. Among the players who are punching a ticket to their first World Series is Matt Kemp; someone who was written off before the season started.
Losing to the Houston Astros in Game seven of the 2017 World Series left many questions, with little to no answers. Why didn’t Dave Roberts pull Yu Darvish before facing George Springer? How did Clayton Kershaw go from dominance to failure within a few games? What could stop Cody Bellinger from striking out so much?
A team with 104 wins couldn’t find ways to lose in the regular season, but success was far from reach in the World Series. The quick offseason led to few acquisitions to plug holes in a roster that didn’t need much improvements. One of the trades, possibly the most head-scratching, was Matt Kemp joining the Dodgers for a second time.
A salary dump to the Atlanta Braves sent Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir put the Dodgers under the salary tax threshold for the first time in a few years. But the only way the trade could work in the Dodgers’ favor was to acquire the former Dodger. No longer the same player who won multiple gold gloves, silver sluggers and was the MVP runner-up in his first round in Los Angeles, Kemp’s future in a Dodger uniform was not realistic.
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Instead, Kemp carried the Dodgers through the first half of season. He earned himself a trip to the All-Star game in Washington for the third time in his career, all with Los Angeles. A batting average of .310 and a .522 slugging percentage not only ranked high among the team, but within the entire league. It was the redemption story of the year.
Kemp was showing flashes of the player who was, at one time, the face of the Dodgers franchise. A hot bat erased concerns of any defensive liability. The weight loss from the offseason brought back some speed to cover ground in the outfield.
But a second-half slump saw Kemp on the bench and starting fewer games. Key hits off the Arizona Diamondbacks in early September started the Dodgers’ chase to the postseason. Kemp is part of the first group of homegrown players to push the Dodgers to playoffs.
Andre Either, Russell Martin, James Loney and Kemp reignited Los Angeles with good baseball for the first time in years. A city with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil now had another team to root for.
The 2018 Dodgers relied on every player throughout the season, but perhaps more so on Kemp. Injuries riddled the team just like they did his career. But just like the rest of the team was able to overcome the adversities; Matt Kemp is on his way to his first World Series with his first team.