Found May 02, 2012 on Fox Sports West:
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While Matt Kemp's April explosion sparked Triple Crown conversations, he and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers are dealing more in reality than dreams. They have enjoyed a best-in-the-National League beginning to 2012, but have not lost sight of the six-month challenge of a baseball season. Reality check: With a 17-7 start, the Dodgers' magic number to clinch the NL West remained 135 games. And, oh by the way, the Colorado Rockies rocked baseball in April a year ago, opening the season by winning 17 of their first 25 games. They went 56-83 the rest of the way, and by the All-Star break were fading into oblivion. "It is too early to think anything other than we got off to a good start," said manager Don Mattingly. Nobody is more aware of that than Rockies manager Jim Tracy. Colorado's skipper rallied the Rockies to the NL wild-card back in a 2009 season that began so poorly he was promoted from bench coach to manager in late May after manager Clint Hurdle was fired. He also can remember a 2010 season in which the Rockies were one game out of first place in the NL West with 14 games to play, and lost 13 of the remaining 14 games, finishing nine games out. And then there was that false start of a year ago. "Over the course of 162 games, all 30 teams will step into a pothole," Tracy said. "Every single one of them at some point in time will go through something like that. The teams that figure out quicker than others how to get the hell out of the pothole that they stepped in, that will go a long way in determining what your season will look like." The Dodgers have built their early success off a strong-armed rotation -- 11-3 with a 2.86 earned-run average in the first 24 games -- and the explosive starts of Kemp and Andre Ethier, their 3-4 hitters. While Kemp has been the focus of what's gone right -- he joined Tony Perez and Larry Walker as the only players in history to hit .400 with 10 home runs and 25 RBI in April -- Ethier has been every bit as significant. With three RBI in the Dodgers' 7-6 victory at Colorado on Tuesday night, Ethier took the major league lead in RBI with 27, two more than Kemp. The combined 18 home runs of Kemp (12 HR, 25 RBI to go with a .409 average) and Ethier in the first 24 games of the season are more than eight major-league teams. And that's an uncomfortable overload on a single team. The rest of the Dodgers have combined for only five home runs and 47 RBI, five fewer than Kemp and Ethier combined. "History says it isn't likely they will continue at that pace," said Dodgers coach Davey Lopes. "When you look, it takes four or five guys having big years for a team to have success. Rarely do you see a team depend on two guys. It's happened a time or two, but the history of the game says the odds are against you having success without balance." That 2010 Rockies teams is a great piece of evidence for what Lopes says. The Rockies hung on for an 82-80 finish despite seasons that made MVP candidates out of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who won a Gold Glove while hitting .315 with 27 home runs and 95 RBI, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who hit .336 with 34 home runs, 117 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Nobody else on the team hit .270 or drove in 65 runs. "We are fortunate right now that (Kemp) and Ethier have carried us so far," said third base coach Tim Wallach. "You expect at some point they are not going to continue the pace they have set, but at the same time history says we have other guys who are capable, and during the long grind of the season you look for them to pick the team up at some point. "We have some professional hitters who have a track record and I think that bodes well for us." Nobody has stumbled more than James Loney, who went into Wednesday hitting .230 with one home run and six RBI. He has a career .286 average, and in his five full big-league seasons has averaged 12 home runs and 80 RBI per season. And he had what observers felt could be a breakthrough moment in the final two months last season, hitting .357 with eight home runs and 32 RBI. "When we went to spring training we had reason to feel James could do what he did at the end of last year, but we have a lot of guys not doing what they are capable of, not just James," said Lopes. Dee Gordon, the base-stealing phenom, has 10 stolen bases, but it has been hard for him to add to his total. He hit the first home run of his career Tuesday, a blast off the right field faade at Coors Field to open the 7-6 victory against Jhoulys Chacin. But it was just his third hit in his last 29 at-bats as his average has fallen to .209. Left fielder Juan Rivera, slowed by a sore hamstring lately, is hitting .250 with one home run and nine RBI. Juan Uribe is hitting .267, driving in just seven runs and yet to hit his first home run. "We are not clicking on all cylinders, but we are in a good position," said Lopes. "We feel the other guys are fully capable of (rebounding)." And the Dodgers, their fast start notwithstanding, know they will need those "other guys" to rebound if the Dodgers are to maintain.
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