Dynamic duo's strides driving Dodgers
Development of Kemp, Ethier two stories of LA's success
After they lost to Philadelphia in last year's National League Championship Series, the Dodgers had to know that to make it to the Fall Classic and win a long-awaited ring, they'd need to come of age.
They've done it this year, and two huge reasons for it are the budding stars in their outfield.
Their names are Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, both are having career years for a first-place club that figures to be a major player in the postseason, and both are young, charismatic, very talented and still loaded with untapped potential.
They're also very different.
Kemp, who turns 25 next week, is a rare specimen of raw power, speed and baseball talent, even though he was recruited by the University of Oklahoma to play basketball as a shooting guard and teammates, scouts, opposing players and fans liken him to a football player.
"He's 6-foot-3, 230 [pounds] and probably the fastest person on the team," Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus said. "He could have been a tight end in the NFL. If he stays the course, he could have a great career. He's been the biggest piece and the most consistent piece from day one."
And it's only getting better.
After breaking out in 2008, his first full season, with a .290 batting average, 18 home runs, 76 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 35 stolen bases, Kemp has improved across the board in 2009 as the Dodgers' center fielder. Through Sunday, he had already reached career highs in homers (23), RBIs (91) and walks (48), and he's well on pace to establish new tops in batting average (he's hitting .305), runs (he already has 87) and steals (he's at 32).
Kemp is the sixth Dodger to record at least 20 homers and 30 steals in a season, the first since Raul Mondesi in 1999. In addition, Kemp is tied for the NL lead with 13 outfield assists.
He has a catchy nickname, "The Bison," given to him by readers of the Dodger Thoughts blog after former Dodgers hurler, Hall of Famer and current Braves broadcaster Don Sutton referred to Kemp's aggressive strides around the bases as reminding him of a "buffalo."
He also leads the team with three grand slams this season, just another example of his enormous potential paying big dividends on the road to October.
"This kid, of all the youngsters, has really surprised me how quickly [he has developed]," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
"I think everybody knew how impressive his tools were. I think it's unfair to him to think he's going to be another Alex [Rodriguez] or guys like that, but I know one thing. When he hits that ball in the air, it doesn't come down, and he's very aggressive."
Ethier, meanwhile, does it in a more controlled, polished way, but there's no doubt that he's been just as effective as Kemp.
Through Sunday, he led the Dodgers with 28 home runs, 94 RBIs, 39 doubles, and a .522 slugging percentage, all career highs. Ethier also leads the Major Leagues with five walk-off hits -- three of them home runs -- this season, and eight since the start of the 2008 season.
He's on pace to become the first Dodgers outfielder with a 30-homer, 100-RBI season since Shawn Green accomplished the feat in 2002. He's been named NL Player of the Week twice.
"He's been really clutch for the team," Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley. "He's had all of those game-winning hits. He's been able to rise to the occasion."
Like Kemp, he appears to be merely scratching the surface of his talent, too.
Consider first that he's only 27, and then look at his home run and RBI totals over the past three years before the 2009 explosion: 11-55 in 2006, 13-64 in '07 and 20-77.
"I still think he's got some more [untapped ability] once he gets the hitting zone figured out," Torre said.
For Ethier, it's been a steady progression that has put him in a unique position as a go-to guy in a first-place lineup -- and in the clubhouse.
"You always want to be a leader and contribute and be part of a team," Ethier says.
"You don't always have to be vocal. Maybe you do the little things -- show up on time, go about your business in a professional manner. When you have leaders on a team you look up to, that spreads throughout the clubhouse. A bad leader spreads, too. Good ones are out in front. You want guys to lead the right way and be the right examples on and off the field."
Dodgers' dynamic duo
|Below is a look at the stats (AVG-HR-RBI) of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier over the past four seasons.|
|* Statistics through Sunday's game|
Ethier is one, Kemp is one, and it's only fitting considering they've been playing together since the Minor Leagues. They're picking the right time as they mature into stars and the Dodgers mature into what they hope will be a big league champion.
"We know each other's games," Kemp says of his relationship with Ethier. "When one of us is getting away from our game, he can ask one of us what's wrong."
There haven't been many questions in 2009.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.