Even if neither Matt Kemp or Ross Stripling are not selected to the 2018 National League All-Star squad—and there’s still plenty of time for circumstances to dictate that—both players will be remembered for having breakout first-half seasons this year, helping lead the Dodgers out of one of their biggest holes in recent history.
Ask either player which they prefer—playing in the Midsummer Classic or competing in the playoffs—and both would surely tell you that a team playoff bid is much more important than any kind of individual recognition. After all, Kemp already has two All-Star selections on his résumé, and Stripling just seems like the type of humble person who would put the benefit of others before himself, although the righty admits that having the opportunity to be recognized among the best players in the game would be “pretty cool.”
“Those things are always fun, but it’s more for the family and friends and all that. Honestly, all I care about is us getting to the playoffs and winning a championship. My expectations, my plan every year, is to drive in runs and make things happen for the team. All the other things are icing on the cake,” Kemp said earlier in June.
“I’m just trying to go out there every five days and do my thing and not worry about that,” Stripling said recently. “Certainly, you never know if you’ll have another chance, so I want to go out there and do my best to get there because it would be pretty cool.”
Before the season began, many folks didn’t see Kemp even being on the Opening Day 25-man roster, as the primary purpose of his acquisition was financial, pushing the Dodgers back below the luxury tax threshold. The same people criticized Kemp for his attitude and clubhouse demeanor, which were the reasons rumored why a certain new front office regime traded him away in 2014 in the first place. In turn, all of the doubt surrounding his future as a Dodger could be the primary reason he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, coupled with the theory that his future may be determined by his production in 2018.
And Stripling wasn’t much more than a middle-relieving workhorse, believed by many to have the propensity of running out of gas by the end of each season. He was groomed as a starting pitcher during his time on the farm, but when given the chance as a member of the Opening Day rotation back in 2016, he never did enough to separate himself from the big-named stars. Ultimately, he settled into a bullpen role. Some believed that his chances of making the Opening Day 25-man roster—like Kemp—were a bit grim. For a while, it appeared that he would remain stagnant as a middle-reliever, yet when the team was desperate for arms to fill a battered rotation again this year, Strip got the call once again. This time, however, there may be no getting bumped back to the bullpen.
As it stands now, despite all the hurdles and roadblocks in their careers, both players have a good chance of travelling to D.C. to represent the Dodgers in July. And if Dave Roberts has anything to say about it—after all, he is the skipper for the 2018 NL All-Star squad—both Kemp and Stripling will indeed make the trip.
Despite all the early-season doubt, Kemp has become the Dodgers’ most productive player offensively. Before Sunday’s season finale against the Giants, at 33 years of age, Kemp’s .340 average is second in the NL and fourth in all of baseball. He leads the Dodgers in average, OBP, RBI and is second on the club in long balls and OPS.
Over 20 appearances this season—nine of which were starts—Stripling has compiled a 6-1 record with a minuscule 1.76 ERA, 2.41 FIP and 1.01 WHIP over 66-1/3 innings pitched. The 28-year-old has won six consecutive starts, during which time he has posted a 1.43 ERA. And his 78 punchouts calculate to a 10.6 K/9—the first time in his career his strikeout rate has hovered in double-digits.
As far as being selected to the All-Star squad goes, while Roberts and his staff have some say on the pitchers selected, the majority of the pitching staff is determined by player votes. Those ballots were distributed throughout MLB clubhouses earlier in the week.
Kemp’s best shot of making the team may be by garnering enough popular votes cast by the fans. When the last update was revealed by MLB.com on June 12, he was third in the overall outfield voting. The next update in scheduled to be released on Monday, June 18.
Fans may vote for their favorite position players until midnight on Thursday, July 5.