It’s hard to think of anyone on the 2018 Dodgers with a more unconventional path than Matt Kemp. From 2006 to 2014, no position player (except perhaps Andre Ethier) was more beloved in Chavez Ravine than “Beast Mode.” He slugged home runs with ease, won Gold Gloves, (should have) won the N.L. MVP in 2011, dated Rihanna, and was a two-time All-Star in 2011 and 2012.
In 2013, however, he only appeared in 73 games due to a litany of injuries. Despite a strong bounceback season in 2014, his time in L.A. (seemingly) came to an end in December when he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Yasmani Grandal.
While many fans were understandably upset about the trade, the rationale for it was clear. Not only did the team have a surplus of outfielders, but they were desperately trying to clean up their notoriously toxic clubhouse culture. Kemp was widely known as one of the biggest egos in that clubhouse, which made for a particularly contentious relationship with Yasiel Puig.
Then, in December 2017, it all came full circle. The Dodgers sent Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Adrian Gonzalez and Charlie Culberson to Atlanta in a massive salary dump, and Kemp was the return.
Regular Season Recap
Just as soon as Kemp was brought back to Los Angeles, he was immediately rumored to be a trade chip. Such a deal never materialized, and Kemp found himself batting sixth in the Opening Day lineup. It was an honor he absolutely earned, having shed 40 pounds during the offseason.
In prime shape and with a clean slate, 2018 felt like 2011 all over again with each game for Kemp. His first half was simply incredible, batting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI. Several months after being seen as either a trade chip or a discount alternative to Giancarlo Stanton, “The Bison” got to roam in the All-Star Game via fan vote. Kemp made the most of the occasion, notching a hit and sending the Machado-to-L.A. rumors through the roof with a mere selfie.
With such muscular numbers, Kemp had many moments throughout the season that stand on their own. The most indelible, however, are obvious. In early September, Los Angeles welcomed the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks to Chavez Ravine for a series that would effectively decide the N.L. West. After dropping the first game, the Dodgers were five outs away from losing game two with Arizona’s ace closer Archie Bradley on the mound. With two runners on, Kemp decided on a different outcome:
That home run was enough to tie for the division lead. To attain sole possession of first place, Kemp had an encore presentation the very next day. Once again facing Bradley while trailing, this time in the bottom of the ninth, he launched a deep hit to the warning track and sent Elysian Park into a frenzy. Joe Davis’s scintillating “To beat the champ, you’ve gotta knock him out!” call as Kemp exulted on the basepaths easily ranks among his best.
When the season came to an end, Kemp’s total line came to .290 with 21 homers and 85 RBI. His incredible renaissance was justly honored this past week with N.L. Comeback Player of the Year honors.
How’d He Do in October?
Despite a stunning comeback season, Kemp wasn’t able to cap it off with an equally superlative postseason. He only had four at-bats in the NLDS, managing a double. He saw action in all seven games of the NLCS, but only had a .200 average and one RBI to show for it.
Kemp’s usage in the World Series was limited to a platoon role. However, he had his best moment in game one, which was also the team’s first run in the entire series. In his first ever WS at-bat in game one, he golfed a mammoth shot off Chris Sale over the Green Monster in the top of the second to cut the score in half.
What Lies Ahead
Kemp remains under contract for 2019. Just like in 2014, the Dodgers have a glut of outfielders and are almost certain to trade one. (Or, if they plan to sign Bryce Harper, two.) Puig, Verdugo and Pederson have been floated as the most likely ones to be traded, so as of now it looks like Kemp will continue his second stint in the Dodger Stadium outfield.
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