LOS ANGELES -- No matter the Dodgers' poor record or their fourth-place standing in the National League West, to manager Don Mattingly, Matt Kemp should be an NL MVP candidate -- if not the obvious favorite.Kemp's remarkable, do-it-all season continued in a 9-5 Los Angeles victory over Arizona Friday. He homered, knocked in the Dodgers' first five runs and added a sprawling catch in center field. Kemp, who was 2-for-5, now leads the league in RBIs (80), while sitting second in home runs (25) and seventh in batting average (.313). The only factor stopping him from being the MVP front-runner is his team's 12 1/2-game deficit. Mattingly said he understands why the award typically goes to players on teams in the playoff hunt. Some argue he may have missed out on an MVP or two had his Yankees teams in the '80s contended more frequently. To him, lower win totals don't always make a player less valuable, and that was never more evident than when he was asked to fathom a world in which Kemp didn't don Dodger Blue. "Don't make me think about that," he responded. "We just won the game." With the Dodgers rallying in the third, Kemp wasted no time cashing in. With two on and one out, he crushed a first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence.
Kemp made a bit of history with the homer, joining Raul Mondesi as the only Dodgers with multiple seasons with 25 homers and 25 steals. Kemp also did so in 2009, but is on pace for much better final numbers. Kemp is the fifth fastest National Leaguer to reach 25/25 -- only Eric Davis, Bobby Bonds, Alfonso Soriano and Howard Johnson have done so quicker."It definitely makes me feel good," Kemp said of being labeled one of the league's top players. "To be one of the best, if that's the label I get, it would be great. But the best players make it to the World Series, too." An inning later, Kemp came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He hit a rocket single to center that plated two runs and chased Arizona's Josh Collmenter after 3 2/3 ineffective innings. Following the game, Kemp gave a pragmatic response to being told he was in the RBI lead. "It's really not important," he said. "Winning games is important. If I drive in runs, we win more games." Mattingly noted the biggest addition to Kemp's game this season has been his patience at the plate, taking walks in situations where some cleanup hitters might try to do too much. But with the bases loaded (where Kemp is 4-for-7 with 13 RBIs), he said Kemp is at his best because the opposing pitcher has nowhere to put him. Friday, that opposing pitcher was Collmenter, who battled Kemp for six pitches, before he lined a two-run single. "He fouled off a couple of tough pitches, and we were trying to get him up and see if he would swing through it, and he did a good job staying on top of the ball," Collmenter said. "It probably should have been a little bit more up. If I make a better pitch there, who knows with the way we were clawing back into the game, that was kind of the blow that shifted the momentum on their side." As a teammate, center fielder Tony Gwynn knows he's biased, but he said Kemp has his MVP vote. "MVP is Most Valuable Player for that particular team in the league," Gwynn said. "You take Matt out of our lineup ..." Gwynn then paused for a split second, like Mattingly forced against his will to think about the 2011 Dodgers without Kemp. "... It's a whole new ballgame," he continued. "He's amazing." Kemp provided the offense early. Gwynn was instrumental in the Dodgers' final rally of the night, which put the game out of reach. He hit a deep fly ball to right field that Justin Upton never had a good bead on. Upton short-armed the ball before it hopped over the fence for two bases. That scored a run and Jamey Carroll's sacrifice fly and Rafael Furcal's double plated the final two. "If you asked Justin, he expects to make that play," said Gwynn, who wasn't pleased with the scoring decision of an error, but said he understands it. "If you ask me, I expect to make that play, but nevertheless, by no means was it routine and by no means did he get any part of his body, glove, face, anything around on it." On the other side of the ball, given the matchup of a fly-ball-hitting team in Arizona and a fly-ball pitcher in Ted Lilly, long balls from Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist weren't much of a surprise. They marked the 22nd and 23rd homers Lilly has surrendered this season -- third-most in the National League. But Lilly worked his way around those to go five three-hit innings with the homers marking the only earned runs he allowed. He was removed heading into the sixth, Mattingly said, because of his past struggles against the heart of the D-backs' order. After he came out, Arizona twice cut the lead to one run. But the Dodgers struck back, and in what equaled the highest-scoring game of the season at Dodger Stadium, Mattingly didn't take any more chances, using closer Javy Guerra to get through the ninth in a non-save situation.
AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.