So the latest All-Star vote totals were released last week, and Matt Kemp had more votes than Bryce Harper.
We’re not here to rehash the fairy tale, about how the guy who wasn’t supposed to make the team has emerged as one of its indispensable parts. We’re here to talk about how the guy who was acquired more for his contract than for his talent really is having a better season than the guy who was supposed to be months away from the richest contract in sports history.
He had more votes last week than Harper, Buster Posey or Kris Bryant. He is in line to make his first All-Star appearance in six years.
“It’s good,” Kemp said. “Good first half. That’s what the All-Star game is, having a good first half.
“Those things are fun and good for everybody, but my main focus is literally getting back to the playoffs, where it’s really fun, and trying to win a championship, something I have never done.”
Kemp drove in four of the Dodgers’ first five runs Sunday. He hit the game-winning home run in the eighth inning of a 6-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies, enabling the Dodgers to end a losing streak at three games and move within 2½ games of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
Kenley Jansen worked the ninth inning for his 22nd save. He has converted 20 consecutive save opportunities. Max Muncy reached base four times, on two singles and two walks. Of all the NL players with at least 200 plate appearances, he is the only one with an OPS above 1.000.
Ross Stripling rebounded from a rocky start to hold the Rockies at bay through six innings. Stripling, so dominant for so long, gave up four runs and nine hits — season highs in each category — as his earned-run average rose to 2.27.
In his last three starts, Stripling has given up 24 hits and eight runs in 17 innings. In his previous three starts, he gave up 12 hits and four runs in 18 innings.
“I don’t think I’m fatiguing,” Stripling said. “I wouldn’t say that. I’m sure they’ve now seen me throw 80 innings this year. They’ve got an idea of what’s coming. I’ve just got to stay sharp.”
But the story Sunday was Kemp, as it was for virtually every day in spring training.
He was the guy the Dodgers couldn’t trade, the guy they didn’t really want, the guy who lost 40 pounds over the offseason and hit his way onto the opening-day roster.
“Everyone wanted him to be our starting left fielder,” Stripling said. “It’s a bat that you could stick in the middle of our lineup and obviously have an impact. To think he is most likely going to be an All-Star, hitting .300 and basically leading our team … it’s been really fun to watch.”
Kemp ranks second among NL outfielders with an .889 OPS. Harper ranks seventh, at .841.
Kemp is batting .310 with a .348 on-base percentage, 14 home runs and 51 runs batted in. Harper is batting .216 with a .366 on-base percentage, 20 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Kemp drove in each of the Dodgers’ first three runs — on a ground out in the first inning, a double in the third and a single in the fifth. Kemp started the game with two hits in his previous 36 at-bats, not that he fretted too deeply about a funk.
“No,” he said with a smile. “I just couldn’t wait ‘til July.”
He is more than halfway to his first 100-RBI season since 2015, for the San Diego Padres. In his nine previous seasons with the Dodgers, he drove in 100 runs twice.
Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager now and a former teammate of Kemp, said the outfielder emerged as a confident clubhouse presence in May. The curiosity was gone, as was the insecurity about whether he would really remain with the team, and Roberts said Kemp proceeded to assert “himself, his personality and his voice with this club.”
Said Roberts: “Matt is having good conversations with guys. I think he’s a lot more comfortable. There’s been a lot of noise since we traded for him. He’s been nothing but professional to stay the course and be productive.”
Jansen teamed with Kemp with the Dodgers in five previous years, including 2011, when he was the runner-up for NL most valuable player.
“If you saw Matt in 2011 and ’12, he was rising,” Jansen said. “He would have turned out to be a superstar and, boom, he slammed into that wall in Colorado.”
Then came the shoulder injury, the ankle injury, and three trades in three years to San Diego, Atlanta and back to the Dodgers.