Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Matt Kemp's an All-Star lock
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Generally speaking, teams with losing records aren't well represented at baseball's All-Star Game. Given the Los Angeles Dodgers, following their 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, have to win 12 of their remaining 16 first-half games to avoid being one of those teams, their All-Star prospects are looking a bit bleak at this point.
For now, I think we can safely assume Matt Kemp will be there for the first time, and would be even if there wasn't a rule stating every team has to have at least one player named to the team. The center fielder is having what projects to a season for the ages, hitting .328 with 20 homers, 58 RBIs, 21 steals and a .420 on-base percentage, and he already is only the second player since the team moved from Brooklyn in 1958 to reach 20 homers and 20 steals before the All-Star break.
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is well on his way to his first All-Star selection.
You could make an argument Kemp still has a chance to be voted in as a starter, but that's like saying the Dodgers still have a chance to get back to .500 before the break. He ranks fourth among National League outfielders in the latest balloting update released Monday -- the top three vote-getters will comprise the NL starting outfield -- but Kemp trails third-place Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals by almost 330,000 votes. That's a big margin, especially with balloting set to close next Thursday night.
Barring a huge surge by Kemp, it looks as if the NL starting outfield will consist of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, the Cardinals' Lance Berkman and Holliday. But given Kemp's offensive numbers, which make him the early-season leader for the NL Most Valuable Player award, it would seem a slam dunk that San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy will add Kemp as a reserve.
After that, the picture gets clouded for the Dodgers. They have two other marginal candidates in right fielder Andre Ethier, who currently is fifth in the outfield voting behind Kemp, and left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
Ethier made his first All-Star team last year, when he got off to a monstrous start, but making it again this year would carry special meaning for him because the game will be played July 12 in his hometown of Phoenix. However, despite a .312 average, he probably is on the bubble at best. His seven homers are way off his usual pace, his having slammed 54 of them over the previous two seasons, and while his 37 RBIs are second on the team, he is way behind Kemp in that category.
Reserve position players for each team's 34 roster spots are selected through a combination of league-wide player balloting and the respective All-Star managers. If Bochy runs into a roster crunch, Ethier could easily be squeezed out. One thing that could work in his favor, though, is that after Kemp and the three leading vote-getters, there aren't a lot of NL outfielders having seasons that are dramatically better than Ethier's. Cincinnati's Jay Bruce comes to mind, especially given he is sixth in the balloting behind Ethier, but after that, Ethier could have a shot.
These right-on-the-edge cases are what typically elicit a phone call from a player's manager to the All-Star manager to lobby on behalf of that player. Without bringing up Ethier specifically, I asked Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Wednesday morning whether he was considering making such a call to Bochy about any of his players. Mattingly, a rookie manager who never has dealt with this sort of thing before, answered cryptically.
"To me, Matt is a no-brainer, and Andre should be in the mix," Mattingly said. "Obviously, guys like Kershaw, I'm not quite sure how the process works. I have never been really political, but we will fight for our guys to get what they deserve."
Which brings us, finally, to Kershaw.
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Pitchers will be chosen via the same method as position reserves. Kershaw entered play Wednesday ranked second in the majors with 117 strikeouts, two behind Philadelphia's Roy Halladay. He was second in the NL in innings pitched with 107 2/3. And he was one of only seven pitchers in the majors to have pitched two shutouts this season, the most recent being the two-hitter he delivered Monday night against the Detroit Tigers.
And even though he doesn't rank among the league leaders in a season in which ERAs seem to be down all over the league, Kershaw also has a sterling 3.01, along with a strikeout-to-walk ratio well in excess of 3:1.
"There is no denying that it would be special," Kershaw said of the possibility of being selected for what would be the first time in his career. "I don't know if it's a dream come true, because you only really dream about winning. But to do something like that and to play with the best and be a part of it, it would be awesome."
In theory, we should know which Dodgers players are All-Stars by the morning of July 3, when the teams are officially announced on a national cable broadcast. I say in theory because last year, we went a week following that announcement believing the Dodgers would be represented by Ethier, closer Jonathan Broxton and no one else. Then, on the Saturday before the game, shortstop Rafael Furcal was chosen to fill one injury vacancy. By Sunday morning, Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo had been picked to fill another.
The Dodgers won't send four representatives to this year's All-Star Game. But they almost certainly will send Kemp, and they stand a decent chance of sending either Kershaw or Ethier. All three aren't beyond the realm of possibility, but given the Dodgers' record (34-42) and place in the standings (fourth in the NL West), it probably isn't likely.
We'll find out soon enough.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.