DENVER -- One way to look at the dust-up between Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dugout is as another example of what several people have called a “dysfunctional” clubhouse. That could well be true.
Another way to look at it is as a step forward for the team, with one prominent player demanding another prominent player take accountability for his actions. That also could be true.
Nobody in the Dodgers’ clubhouse was offering much detail about the argument, and nobody at home would have even known about it if Root Sports' cameras hadn’t caught the disagreement and put it on the air. For all we know, it could be the 497th most heated discussion among Dodgers this season. It didn’t look particularly menacing, with Kemp just stalking Puig in the dugout and yelling in his direction, and then manager Don Mattingly breaking it up.
What we do know is Puig probably should have gone to third on Adrian Gonzalez’s hump-back liner to right field right before Kemp hit that inning. Had he done so, he would have been on third with nobody out, thereby offering an easy RBI chance for Kemp to pad the Dodgers’ lead at a stadium where visiting teams can never have enough runs.
As it turned out, Puig scored anyway, on Hanley Ramirez’s double, so the Dodgers could laugh it off afterward.
Even so, Mattingly did compare these Dodgers to the early 1970’s Oakland Athletics, a team known as the Fightin’ A’s in part because they battled each other so famously. Exhibit A was Reggie Jackson and Billy North engaging in fisticuffs in 1974 at Tiger Stadium.
The point seems to be that nobody’s going to care how many times Dodgers players had dinner with each other as long as they win the World Series.
During the past three games, they’ve looked as dangerous in the batter’s box as they have all season.
On Saturday, they steamrolled the San Francisco Giants in historical fashion -- 17-0 -- after one of their worst losses of the year the night before. They played a fundamentally sound, tightly pitched game Sunday to take a key series from the Giants. Then they avoided the letdown at a half-full Coors Field by pounding out eight runs in the sixth inning to beat the Colorado Rockies on Monday.
Now they’re getting close to punching their ticket to the playoffs and enjoying a four-game NL West lead with 12 left and a magic number to clinch a postseason berth at just five.
The Dodgers have averaged 6.7 runs per game over their past seven outings.
If what Kemp did in the dugout is an example of his taking a stronger leadership position on this team, it’s a welcome sight. A more welcome sight, though, is the 13 home runs he has mashed in the past 44 games.
“Just consistently working, grinding at-bats out and letting everything take its course,” Kemp said. “I struggled at the beginning of the season. But it’s not the way you start -- it’s the way you finish. I’ve always been a big believer in that. The season’s still not over with, so we’ve got to just grind it out.”
It’s not always the best teams that do well in October, but it’s almost always the hottest teams that go far.
Kemp’s power has added another dimension to what has been steady production from Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, along with shocking levels of production from Justin Turner and signs Puig and Ramirez could join the party soon. In other words, this could be a lineup on the verge of truly clicking for the first time all year.
“Everybody’s starting to come around,” Kemp said. “This is a good time to get hot, hopefully going into the playoffs, and we’ve got to keep grinding it out and keep getting those good at-bats.”