COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers are nearly back to full-strength with the return of star center fielder Matt Kemp. Kemp's hamstring looks like it has healed, as he has been able to run without discomfort and had enough speed to make a diving, likely game-saving catch to end the game against the Giants in his first game back.
Whether his strength at the plate will come back is still a question, but having Kemp in the lineup instead of Skip Schumaker or Jerry Hairston Jr. should help the team.
Yasiel Puig will surely cool off (he won't hit .420/.453/.716 for the rest of the season), but if Kemp is able to pick up some of the slack, the Dodgers will be in good shape -- which is necessary at this time, as the Dodgers are entering a key part of their season.
Chance to Catch Up in the Division
Thirteen of the next 17 games the Dodgers play come against National League West opponents. The only breaks are a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies and the All-Star Break. This is the best chance the Dodgers have to make up ground in the NL West.
In the current run of games, including the series against the Padres that the Dodgers split, the Dodgers play each divisional opponent at least three times -- they play the Giants six times (two of which they have already won).
The Dodgers may be seeing things coming into line. The Dodgers are on their biggest hot streak of the season -- a modest four-game winning streak. Andre Ethier is on one of his hot streaks. Puig is hitting like Babe Ruth. But perhaps most importantly, the pitching is starting to find itself.
Clayton Kershaw is always excellent, despite not getting a win for the past month. Zack Greinke is starting to look like the Grienke the Dodgers hoped to sign instead of the Grienke coming off of a shoulder injury. Hyun Jin-Ryu has been a pleasant surprise and is a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate. Chris Capuano had an excellent week, including pitching incredibly-well on three-days rest.
The fifth pitching spot has been the dark spot in the rotation, with Matt Magill proving he isn't ready for the big time yet (if he ever will be). The yo-yo up and down from Albuquerque and not starting on the usual four-days rest for over a month didn't help Magill.
But Ted Lilly may be on his way back soon, as he threw a simulated game before Tuesday's game. While Lilly isn't a world-beater, he would give the Dodgers a solid option at the bottom of the rotation.
Bullpen Needs to Perform
The biggest problem for the Dodgers right now is the bullpen. Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez have been pitching very well, but the rest of the bullpen is a game of roulette.
Brandon League has been like the 00 on the roulette wheel. He hasn't pitched well in some time and almost gave up a three-run lead to the Giants. Only Paco Rodriguez pitching well and Kemp making his heroic catch saved League's bacon.
I have written before how League is only suited to mop-up duty -- and nearly every time he pitches, he proves it again. The only thing saving League from being placed on waivers is the ill-advised three year contract that he was given in the offseason.
If the Dodgers choose to eat the contract, there are a couple of solutions waiting in Class AAA Albuquerque. Chris Withrow was sent down when Elian Herrera was called up (Herrera has since been sent down when Kemp was activated). He has a problem with walking batters, but he also has a fastball that can strike anyone out.
It wouldn't be a panacea for all the Dodgers' ills, but it would help -- and possibly give the Dodgers a crucial extra win or two in this upcoming important stretch of games.
Matthew Reichbach is a freelance writer and lifelong follower of the Dodgers from their minor league affiliates to the major league club.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @3_2count.
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