T.J. Simers

Dodgers' fortunes took biggest hit when Matt Kemp hit the wall

Matt Kemp is the Dodgers' unquestioned leader, a superstar who can carry a team to glory. But after he injured his shoulder running into a wall in Colorado, his average sunk and do did the team.

SAN DIEGO — I drove down here alone so that I'll have plenty of room upon my return to bring back any Chargers wanting an early start finding a place to live in Los Angeles.

While here I thought I might as well ride the Choking Dogs for going belly up after boasting the best record in baseball and then collapsing when adding better players.

What a wasted opportunity. As this season now comes to a close, the only hope is that some replacement official rules the Dodgers and Cardinals have simultaneous possession of the final wild card.

Take away the first 10 games of the season with the Dodgers going 9-1 and beating up on the Padres and over the next 144 games, it is San Diego at 72-72 with the better record than the Dodgers' 70-74.

That's disgraceful. That's a payroll of around $52 million improving over time while a payroll of $149 million backslides.

So what went wrong?

Two words: Matt Kemp.

He means that much to the Dodgers, the team coming on strong last season with Kemp posting MVP numbers and starting fast again this season, hitting .359 through.34 games.

The guy is a superstar, maturing into the acknowledged team leader. But this season his body betrayed him.

And the Dodgers really aren't much without him.

A pair of hamstring injuries took their toll, but nothing like Kemp's attempt to run through a wall in Colorado.

The Dodgers had just made a deal with Boston, the Giants had lost Melky Cabrera to a drug suspension and a playoff berth was a given.

But Kemp ran into the wall face and shoulder first, initially thinking he had broken his jaw only to awaken the next morning and find no feeling in his left shoulder.

To those who wonder if Kemp is healthy now and what went wrong with the Dodgers, his .158 batting average with two home runs and six RBIs in the last 20 games answers both questions.

"I want to play — hurt or not," Kemp says upon the first attempt to dig deep into his shoulder. "I think everyone in this clubhouse is probably hurt in some way."

He's reluctant to say so, but he finally admits to feeling pain when he swings a bat. And anyone who has watched Kemp swing the bat with the gusto that he does is probably now wincing as well.

By the way, the smudge that always seems to be there on his left shoulder when he comes to the plate is pine tar from his bat while swinging so hard during warmups in the on-deck circle.

"I won't make excuses and it's weird to even answer these questions," he says. "But the fact is it's a frayed labrum, what you would basically call a partially torn labrum."

Will he require surgery?