Much has been made, and rightfully so, of the stellar work Matt Adams has done filling in for Freddie Freeman since the Braves lost their best player to a fractured wrist, an injury that many of us figured would doom the Braves for the approximate 2 ½ months Freeman was expected to be sidelined.
But while Adams’ performance -- .289 average, eight homers, 21 RBIs .608 slugging percentage, .948 OPS in 24 games – has been outstanding, it shouldn’t overshadow the continued production of Matt Kemp, who’s kept raking in the cleanup spot with Nick Markakis hitting in front of him instead of Freeman.
In his past 31 games since May 15 (two days before Freeman got hurt), Kemp has hit .333 (41-for-123) with 15 extra-base hits (five homers), a .374 OBP and .537 slugging percentage (.911 OPS), and he’s as big a reason as any why the Braves are 16-15 in those games despite being without Freeman for 28 of them.
And it’s also why the Braves were understandably concerned when Kemp grabbed his left hamstring after sliding into third base in the third inning Wednesday at Nationals Park, and why there was relief when he was diagnosed with hamstring tightness rather than a pull or strain that probably would’ve sent Kemp back to the 10-day disabled list.
Kemp had a 10-day DL stint in April for a right-hamstring strain, but Freeman was superman in that period and pretty much carried the offense. As good as Adams has been while batting primarily fifth, he’s not quite the every-day monster that Freeman was in the third spot in the order. Adams is more human, prone to a bad series here and there, whereas Freeman was playing MVP-caliber ball and rarely had even consecutive games without an impactful performance.
Which brings us back to Kemp and the importance of his hamstring issue being mere tightness, as diagnosed Wednesday, and not something worse. He’ll be evaluated again Friday afternoon, after the Braves were off Thursday and after he gets treatment during the day Friday. The hope was that he could return to the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the Marlins, but as long as Kemp returns during the weekend series and avoids the DL, the Braves will breathe a sigh of relief and be happy to have dodged a bullet.
Because while they were able to replace much of Freeman’s power potential with the trade for Adams, the Braves would not be able to replace Kemp for any significant period. His production is especially vital to this offense while Freeman is out. (Not to mention he and Brandon Phillips take the Braves' sartorial rating up several notches with their hip attire, particularly on road trips.)
For the season, Kemp is sixth in the National League in batting average (.327), tied for third in doubles (19), tied for 13th in slugging percentage (.558), 25th in OBP (.364) and 17th in OPS (.922) -- between Kris Bryant (.930) and Nolan Arenado (.898) and well ahead of the likes of Anthony Rendon (.888) and Anthony Rizzo (.886).
“This is the best I’ve seen Matt swing the bat in a good minute,” said veteran second baseman Phillips, who's in his first season with the Braves after playing against Kemp for so many years when Phillips was with Cincinnati and Kemp was on West Coast with the Dodgers or Padres. “Playing against him all these years, he’s been very consistent, and for him to not just worry about the power numbers – he’s hitting singles, he’s driving guys in when people get on base, and he’s very fun to watch.
“He’s just playing smart baseball, staying within himself, not trying to do too much. I’m happy that I came over here to have a chance to play with Matt.”
Kemp has been so good, such a vital part of the team since coming to the Braves before the 2017 trade deadline that the Braves might even get trade interest in the 32-year-old former MVP runner-up, despite the fact he’s still making $21.5 million this season and owed that much in each of the next two seasons through 2019, of which the Braves are responsible for about $18 million annually minus the part that the Dodgers/Padres are paying.
But whether they get an offer worth considering – losing Kemp would be a blow to the Braves, who want to remain competitive in their first season at SunTrust Park – or decide to wait until later to even consider trading Kemp, for now the Braves will just cross fingers and hope his hamstring responds to treatment and that it was, indeed, just tightness.
They’d like to have him back this weekend and build on the momentum of a series win at Nationals Park in which the Braves piled up 29 runs in three games.
• Let's close with this one from LL. Seems about right for Kemp past couple of years.
"MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT" by LL Cool J
Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Over the competition, I'm towerin
Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops
Don't you dare stare, you betta move
Don't ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced
Competition's payin the price
I'm gonna knock you out
Mama said knock you out....