Dodgers’ biggest challenge: Dealing with the loss of Matt Kemp

It works this way sometimes. Unexpected starts and almost-easy victories, and then a kick in the gut and wondering how this could all be happening.

Maybe the Dodgers felt they could be this good, but really, they had little reason to. Certainly not this good. Not best-record-in-baseball good.

Only here they are now, losing their best position player – if not the best player in the majors – for a second time and trying to find strength in shaken limbs.

“Obviously it doesn’t look good,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

He was talking about the health of Matt Kemp, not the team, though it could have been either. Kemp reaggravated his hamstring injury in the first inning Wednesday, and this time he could be out longer than the 15 days he just spent on the disabled list.

“It feels worse than the first time,” Kemp said.

And that’s how it usually works when hamstrings flare up again a second time. Kemp said he expects to go on the DL again Thursday, and the news left a clubhouse and team deflated.

The Dodgers still have a 5½-game lead in the National League West, but there are 112 games left to play. Plenty of time for anything to happen, including for a team to feel snakebit and let down.

Which is really the great challenge for this team right now. They have unexpectedly put themselves in pennant condition. This isn’t last season, when they never seemed remotely in the race. Despite their first three-game losing streak of the season, the Dodgers are 32-18, and there is not one team in baseball that wouldn’t swap records with them.

The Dodgers can feel bad about their situation for one night, then have to get back at it. They have to start figuring out a way to keep it going, to take advantage of the situation they’re in.

“I don’t think we can be disappointed,” Mattingly said. “Let’s buckle up and get ready to play. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. The Brewers have a bunch of guys down.

“We have to look at it as a challenge that we’re going to survive this.”

That’s what they did the first time Kemp went on the DL, of course. They kept it going, went 9-5 and even extended their division lead.

But after battling through it and getting all excited about Kemp’s return, he goes down again. And you could just sense the team disappointment; for Kemp, certainly, but also for the club.

The Dodgers almost have to approach this as if Kemp’s not coming back. I’m not saying he’s not, but it’s uncertain how long he’ll be out or when he does return, if he’ll be the same player who was ripping it up in April. He figures to be a more cautious player, which in itself would make him a different player.

Hamstring injuries can drag on and recur. Kemp said the leg felt great, and then he accelerates heading home and the hamstring cries out again. It is, as he said, nobody’s fault. It just is.

And now it’s about how the Dodgers react.

“We’re not going to have a choice but to regroup and to step up,” Mattingly said.

“It’s not going to be a time to feel sorry for ourselves. It would be easy to, but we’re not going to be able to. We can’t afford that.”

There is a new challenge to answer. Still a title to be won. Still time for a team that has begun to believe it in itself, to answer its biggest test.


McCourt management of Dodgers under grand jury investigation

Dodgers hold their breath: Matt Kemp re-injures hamstring in loss

Firm that represented Frank McCourt in bankruptcy goes bankrupt

Do you bleed blue?

Get our Dodgers Dugout newsletter for insights, news and much more.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.