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The Los Angeles Dodgers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time since mid-May, they have a healthy starting lineup as they try to catch the San Francisco Giants for first place in the NL West, trailing by 1 1/2 games going into Tuesday.
Led by All-Star slugger Matt Kemp, the Dodgers got off to a fast start this season. It appeared as if the team would run away early with the NL West.
Kemp was easily the MVP of the first month and a half. He hit 12 home runs in April, which placed him fifth in MLB history for home runs during the first month. He also became just the third player since 1920 to bat .400 with 10-plus home runs and 25-plus RBI in April.
All seemed well in Dodgertown. However, a left hamstring strain in mid-May forced Kemp to disabled list. It was expected to only be a 15-day absence, but Kemp re-aggravated the injury just two days after returning to the lineup. He did not return until after the All-Star break.
The Dodgers were able to tread water for a while, but obviously losing Kemp was a huge blow to their batting order. The team’s other main source of offensive production, Andre Ethier, strained his left oblique in late-June on the same day that the Dodgers lost first place to the Giants.
Ethier was placed on the disabled list a week later, and he too did not return until after the All-Star break. For a little over a month, the Dodgers were forced to seek run production from atypical sources.
Tony Gwynn Jr. and Scott Van Slyke received the bulk of the playing time. Both are nowhere close to the offensive players that their fathers (Tony and Andy, respectively) were during their playing days. The long-time veteran Bobby Abreu also filled in, but he is shell of his former self.
With these players in the lineup, the focus turned to Juan Rivera, Juan Uribe and James Loney to be the run producers. However, these players have been role players at best in their careers, so asking them to pick up the pace of Kemp and Ethier just wasn’t going to happen.
Luckily for the Dodgers, their starting pitching allowed them to stay in the game. However, injuries to Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley have been detrimental to the starting five.
The Dodgers are hoping that now with Kemp and Ethier back in the lineup the pressure to carry the load will be taken off the starting rotation. Of course, the team will always be looking for good performances from its starters, but a little more run support couldn’t hurt.
Expect the Dodgers to be in the market for a starting pitcher. Lilly and Billingsley are working their way back from the disabled list, but maybe Ryan Dempster (who might already be heading to the Braves) or Matt Garza would be a good fit down the stretch.
The Giants have relied on their starting pitching (aside from Tim Lincecum, surprisingly) to propel them into first place. But with the Dodgers’ lineup now healthy once more, the NL West can be an interesting race this summer.