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Dodgers' season still rests on Matt Kemp's broad (and sore) shoulders

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – It's not enough the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday learned their ace, Clayton Kershaw, would miss a start and possibly more – much more – because of a hip injury.

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Matt Kemp, right, helped the Dodgers beat the Cardinals with his defense. (Getty Images)

Or that for two weeks their on-base percentage is two-ninety-something, that they've also lost Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly for the season, that they've slowly kicked away any chance to contend in the NL West, and that now they'll have to have an awful lot go right – starting with Sunday's Stephen Fife for Kershaw swap – to vie for a single do-or-die game against either Tim Hudson or Kris Medlen.

It's not enough that their schedule, after Sunday afternoon's series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals, still holds 10 games against division leaders. Or that the Cardinals will leave here for nine games against the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs.

Or that the Dodgers have played so poorly they've not only ushered the Cardinals into the second wild-card position and kept the Pittsburgh Pirates alive, but dragged the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers into it, too. Or even that the trade (or trades) that was to save their season has done nothing of the sort.

It's that they've had to play so much of it around Matt Kemp.

The best player in the game, the man who made 50-50 look and sound so plausible, Kemp ran into a wall in Colorado a little more than a couple weeks ago and has hardly been heard from since.

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Adrian Gonzalez has not covered for him. Hanley Ramirez has not picked up the slack. Shane Victorino has not hoisted them. Andre Ethier has hit, but on so many nights he'd be alone in that.

Every day Kemp treats his sore left shoulder. Every night he bats third. And many mornings he wakens to the memory of three or four more outs and another game in which the Dodgers could've used just one more hit from the middle of the order.

Beginning with the day he ran full bore into the center-field wall at Coors Field, Kemp has five hits in 48 at-bats. In that span he's struck out 15 times, three of them Saturday night against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia. He was a .500 hitter against Garcia before Saturday night.

The loss of Kershaw, depending on the duration, may indeed finish the Dodgers. But, in some ways, they'd already lost the toolsy and dynamic Kemp, initially to the hamstring issues of the first half and now to a shoulder injury that apparently has rendered him offensively ineffective.

"I feel pretty good right now," Kemp insisted following Saturday's game.

His left shoulder was packed in ice.

"As long as we keep winning, I'm fine," he insisted.

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Kemp is hitting just .114 this month after injuring his left shoulder. (Getty Images)

He's batting .114 this month. He's driven in two runs. Of the 133 National League players with at least 25 at-bats in September, Kemp rates 131st in OPS.

"Guys," he said, "I know how to hit, I promise you. I know how to hit. Baseball's not easy."

The Dodgers won a baseball game Saturday night. Down Kershaw, down half-a-Kemp, with two hits in eight at-bats for Gonzalez and Ramirez, they drew even with the Cardinals for the second wild-card position. They have 16 games left, all of them uphill.

And here's the thing about how the Dodgers can't survive alone on Luis Cruz, who dramatically tied the score with a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth against Cardinals closer Jason Motte, and Juan Rivera, who won it with a soft single:

Kemp won this game.

When the Dodgers were dashing around the infield, chasing Rivera and draping themselves all over Cruz, the hero really was Matt Kemp. Three-strikeout-and-one-groundout Matt Kemp. One extra-base-hit-in-two-and-a-half-weeks Matt Kemp. He won it.

"It really chokes me up," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, and his eyes actually reddened.

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The Cardinals led in the ninth inning, 3-2. The first batter of the ninth, Yadier Molina, hit a fastball to the center-field wall. Kemp chased it, extended his glove, crashed into the wall on his left side, and missed it. The ball bounded back toward the infield.

Molina turned second. He isn't fast. In fact, sometimes it appears he is running up the down escalator. But he turned second, seeking his fourth career triple and, with none out, surely almost a sure run.

Kemp gathered the ball from behind, reared, flung himself to the grass and threw a one-hopper to third base.

"I was trying to act like he wasn't throwing," Cruz, the third baseman, said. "So maybe he'd slow down."

Molina kept coming. He was out by a foot. The score would remain 3-2, Cardinals, into the bottom of the ninth. And after Gonzalez and Ramirez made their outs, the Dodgers scored twice. Ethier singled. Pinch-runner Dee Gordon stole second off the Motte-Molina battery. Cruz doubled. Rivera, pinch-hitting, singled. They made Kemp's play stand up, when the Cardinals had as much to lose as the Dodgers did.

"That's total not wanting to lose," Mattingly said. "It's one of those things that won't get mentioned unless you win. Otherwise, all you think about is you didn't get any hits."

The game remained a game because Kemp showed up, took his slump like an adult, got after it defensively, and pushed the season ahead another day for the Dodgers. This remains his team, which must answer to his effort. Maybe none of that will count if Kershaw can't pitch and the lineup still can't produce runs and somebody gets hot behind them. But, maybe it will. Maybe it's their only chance.

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