LOS ANGELES -- As the hours slip away until Thursday's 1 p.m. PT trade deadline, the Los Angeles Dodgers' needs and lack thereof seem to come more crisply into focus with each inning they play.
In his past four starts, Josh Beckett has looked a lot more like the declining mid-30s pitcher of early 2013 than the comeback player of the year candidate he resembled for most of the first half of this season. He couldn't make it out of the fifth inning Tuesday night, needing 105 pitches to get 13 outs. With Dan Haren struggling and Beckett's health in doubt as he pitches through a potentially serious hip condition, it's pretty clear now the Dodgers will land a starting pitcher -- or at least go down to the wire trying.
And, no matter what Matt Kemp's agent says, it's going to be almost impossible for the Dodgers to trade his client between now and Thursday. Yes, there's the massive contract that makes it a tough sell to other teams, but there's also this: What if Kemp is slowly getting back to being the player who dominated the National League three years ago?
Is it happening? Who knows? Is it possible? Why not?
It certainly looked like a different Kemp, a vintage Kemp, smacking two home runs in the Dodgers' 8-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. When Kemp is at his best, he has nearly effortless power to center and right fields. Both of Tuesday's home runs came to the opposite field. When Kemp hit his second home run, a high drive to center, he finished with his trademark high finish.
Maybe it's the comfort level of moving back to a position he knows -- right field. Maybe it's just distance from those two offseason surgeries and the confidence that comes with having a sound shoulder and ankle. Maybe it's something else entirely, but the Dodgers are getting massive production from their outfield these past four days, amid their longest winning streak of the season, so why would they willfully tamper with that as they get closer and closer to prime playoff positioning?
Kemp is batting .397 with a double, triple, two home runs and 13 RBIs in his past 17 games. He has remained dismissive of any questions about his future, saying after Tuesday's game, "I've talked about rumors. I'm not talking about any trade right now. I'm with the Dodgers."
The last time Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, spoke on the topic, he told CBSSports.com, "Sometimes change is good. This might be the time to change."
It turns out, there was change in Kemp's future. He moved to right field, Yasiel Puig moved to center and everyone, with the possible exception of Andre Ethier, now relegated to a deep corner of the bench, has apparently lived happily ever after.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly admits he has been impressed with Kemp's ability to play well amid the swirling trade rumors.
"There are so many rumors nowadays with so much social media and guys basically throwing stuff against the wall, it seems like," Mattingly said. "You've got to be ready to play, keep it simple, and Matt's done a nice job of handling that."
Some people still view the Dodgers as the likeliest landing place for Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester, who was pulled from his Wednesday start amid a frenzy of trade rumors. That may be, although Dodgers sources continue to stress their reluctance to trade elite prospects for a player they'd have under contract for only two regular-season months.
If they got Lester, he might take the rotation spot of his former teammate, Beckett, who seems like a decent candidate for a second trip to the disabled list at some point in the coming weeks. Lester almost certainly wouldn't take the roster spot of the Dodgers' new right fielder, a player they got back without having to move any young talent.