Clayton Kershaw, LHP: He’s been in the “rising” category so long, you wonder if he’s still confined by the earth’s atmosphere. Is he? This season is turning historical, on par with Pedro Martinez in 2000 and comparable to Sandy Koufax in 1964 and Bob Gibson in 1968. Kershaw has three more starts in the regular season (unless the Dodgers are forced to play a one-game playoff or a wild-card game), and if he keeps right on trucking, they probably won’t have to. He hasn’t lost a decision since Aug. 16 and, before that, May 28.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Don Mattingly said in late August that he would find out which of his players thrives in pressure situations and those answers are beginning to emerge. Gonzalez had a long slump in May and June or he would be in the middle of the National League MVP discussion. He has been the one consistent power source in the middle of the Dodgers’ order and his knack for coming up with hits in clutch situations has stood alone much of the season. He’s a walking argument for why RBIs do, in fact, matter in a team context.
Matt Kemp, RF: For the rest of his career, that tremendous 2011 season will follow him around. It’s hard to measure up to something like that, but Kemp has shown signs of approaching that form lately, minus the 40-stolen base potential. Earlier this week, he sliced a ball into the right field stands. When the Dodgers see opposite-field power like that from Kemp, they know his swing is working the way it was designed.
Roberto Hernandez, RHP: The question a couple of weeks ago was whether he will pitch well enough to withstand a late charge by Dan Haren and make the Dodgers’ postseason rotation. Now, it’s more about whether he’s a better option as the team’s No. 5 starter for these final few weeks of the regular season. He followed up a 4 1/3-inning start with a three-inning start. It wasn’t his fault Hanley Ramirez made a couple of errors that led to three unearned runs -- Hernandez relies heavily on his defense as a sinkerball pitcher -- but it was his fault that he gave up all those hits after the first error, including a line-drive double by the pitcher.
Yasiel Puig, CF: The worry with Puig isn’t so much that he’ll lose confidence. It’s whether he’ll lose interest. He is batting .189 in his last 28 games and hasn’t homered since July 31. On Tuesday, he barely bothered to go through pregame practice with his teammates, spending most of batting practice chatting with friends in the seats near the dugout. The Dodgers have tried to motivate Puig by showing him there’s confidence for his spot, starting Joc Pederson a couple of times in center field, but it doesn’t seem as if that stick has worked.
Hanley Ramirez, SS: The Dodgers have lived with his poor defense for more than two seasons now. If anything, they’ve tried to protect themselves from it by using glove man Miguel Rojas for the final two innings of close games. Ramirez still might be the best-hitting shortstop in baseball, which is why the Dodgers are willing to endure his mistakes in the field. At times, that’s not easy. Ramirez made three errors in the span of six innings between Monday and Tuesday’s games, helping usher in five unearned runs. As he ages, his lack of range and iffy footwork become bigger problems, but the Dodgers only have to endure them for another month or so. If they do keep him beyond this year, it won’t be to play shortstop.