Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has embarked on what might be a season for the record books.
In just over two weeks, Kemp — who has become one of the brightest young hitters in Major League Baseball — has hit nine home runs, knocked in 22 runs and batted .460. All three of those totals are best in the league, and his batting average and home run total are well ahead of the rest of the National League.
Those three stats — batting average, home runs and RBI — are the three stats that make up baseball’s Triple Crown, one of the most prestigious achievements a hitter can accomplish. The last time it occurred was in Boston in 1967 with Carl Yastrzemski, and we’re currently in the longest drought without a Triple Crown winner in baseball history.
Some say it may never happen again.
But with Kemp, it’s possible in 2012. I’m not saying he’s going to bat .460 the rest of the season — no player in the modern era has ever done that — but if he can keep his average somewhere around .380, he will probably win the batting average title in the National League. As of Tuesday afternoon, the second-highest batting average is .375, shared by Buster Posey and David Wright.
I can’t see anyone keeping up with Kemp in the home run race. We might be able to concede that race in the third week of the season, because a healthy Kemp is the only hitter in the National League who’s capable of hitting 50 home runs this year.
It might come down to the RBI race, and it might be one of Kemp’s own teammates that keeps him from winning the Triple Crown. Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier also has 22 RBI so far, and if he can stay healthy, he is a 100-or-more RBI threat.
Especially when you consider that Ethier bats directly behind Kemp in the Dodgers’ lineup, and will get to clean up all of his scraps as the season goes on. Pitchers will pitch around Kemp as his numbers grow, and that will give Ethier more opportunities to knock in runs.
But perhaps the most telling stat that could hand Kemp the Triple Crown isn’t an offensive stat — it could be the ERA of other teams’ pitching staffs in the NL West. The Dodgers’ division isn’t loaded with overpowering pitchers (especially if Tim Lincecum can’t turn around a slow start), and Kemp will get to face each of the four other teams in the NL West 18 times in 2012.
Kemp doesn’t have to face the best pitching staff in the West, because it’s his own pitchers: the Dodgers have a combined ERA of 3.12, fifth-best in the National League. From there, the stumbling Giants rank seventh at 3.28, the Padres are No. 8, the Diamondbacks are No. 13 and the Rockies are No. 15.
In the batting average race, David Wright will have to face the Washington Nationals’ pitchers 18 times this season, and that staff is allowing batters to hit just .202 so far. Kemp will only have to face that staff six times this year.
The stars might be aligning for Kemp to win the Triple Crown, and the race might be over before the home stretch.