02 September 2007

The Back Door

by Joshua Worley

When it comes to criticizing Matt Kemp, the front door is locked and barred, guarded by a large, red-eyed dog. Kemp's batting results are spectacular, the best on the team. 0.891 OPS. 0.335 batting average. His road OPS is 0.837 ( not counting today ) even though all nine of his home runs have come at home. He's stolen 8 bases in 11 attempts. The front way is barred beyond any doubt by Matthew Ryan Kemp.

How quickly we look for that back door, though. You just have to go around a bit, out of view of all that stuff in the front. The back door is unlocked, wide open even, and guarded, if one could call it that, by a friendly golden retriever who will lick your hands and invite you in. Welcome, welcome into the house of criticizing Matt Kemp. There's so much to see here, by way of this back door. Base-running misadventures. Strikeouts. Swinging at bad pitches. Looking over-matched and out of his league in certain memorable at bats. Being iffy in the outfield. Even today, while Kemp was in the process of locking down the front door even more with 3 hits, 2 runs scored, 1 RBI, he left the back door open even more when he was doubled off first base on a Jeff Kent fly ball.

All of these back-door criticisms are valid, in their usually very limited contexts. I've mentioned them or thought of all of them for myself on several occasions. And I wonder why. Why do I and others go to the back door so quickly? It's his youth, his newness, I guess. He's unproven, in the conventional sense. He certainly has things to learn, to improve upon. But let's not lose sight of that barred front door. When he plays Kemp does more than nearly anyone else to help the Dodgers win games. His net effect on the Dodger season has been overwhelmingly positive.

The truth is that every Dodger has a wide open back door for criticism. The difference is we don't look for it with most other Dodgers. I really think it's time to stop looking for it with Kemp as well. He does need to work on his base-running, defense, and plate discipline. But should such a big deal be made out of it? Should stories be written about his base-running blunders instead of his awesome hitting?

I began with this title to talk about how the Dodgers would now be looking to make the playoffs, but instead it became a piece about Matt Kemp. In the Dodgers case, too, the front door is barred. Most likely. In this case the front way is overtaking the Padres and winning the division. It's probably not going to happen. The Padres are a better team, and four games ahead, with only three head-to-head games remaining. If the Dodgers swept those games, then maybe, but really they'll be lucky to win 2 of those 3.

The back door is overtaking the Snakes and the Phillies and winning the wild card. The Snakes are better than I thought they were earlier, but probably still not quite as good as their record. Not as good as the Padres. Even though the Dodgers are also 4 back of the Snakes, I think they're a much easier target to overtake than the Padres. The Dodgers have 6 left with them, plenty of games with which to make some noise. This weekend has been disheartening, but it's too early to give up. Catching the Phillies and Diamondbacks is a reachable goal. It begins by attempting to take at least 3 of 4 from the Cubs. The back door is still open.

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