Phillies Opposition Roadblock: Matt Kemp

Apr 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres right fielder Matt Kemp (27) uses water to cool down in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Padres defeated the Rockies 13-6. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Padres right fielder Matt Kemp (27) uses water to cool down in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Padres defeated the Rockies 13-6. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies open a four-game series with the San Diego Padres at home on Monday.

After defeating the defending National League champion New York Mets by taking two of three games in the Big Apple this past weekend, the Phillies are finally coming home.

They were able to put a disastrous first four games behind them and take games from veteran starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and Gotham’s Dark Knight (dumbest nickname in baseball), Matt Harvey on Saturday and Sunday.

In an odd turn of events, the Phillies’ bullpen made a complete 180, experiencing immense success at Citi Field.  Hector Neris and his splitter are dominating opposing hitters right now, and Jeanmar Gomez‘ ability to throw strikes with a ton of movement has slotted well into the ninth inning role.

The Phillies did a nice job keeping my last “Opposition Roadblock”, Mets young outfielder Michael Conforto, at bay last weekend.  He was 2-9 in the series, with both hits coming in the first game, which was the lone Mets win in the series.  In that game, the left fielder accounted for four of the home team’s seven runs.

Conforto was held down by what seemed a consistent attack of fastballs on the inner half of the plate.  He had a difficult time getting extended, striking out twice, breaking a couple bats, and flying out lazily into right field multiple times.

As we move home, I looked over the San Diego Padres roster and came up with a familiar face as this week’s roadblock.  As the Phillies enter this four game set with the NL West’s current fourth place team, veteran Matt Kemp jumps off the page as the player on whom the Phillies need to focus their scouting report.

Kemp, the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player runner-up while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is in his second season in San Diego.  In these early days of the 2016 season, Kemp is leading the Padres in home runs (4) and RBI (10), is second on their club in batting average (.429, and continues to provide thunder in the middle of an otherwise quiet Friars’ batting order.

Kemp has long been a force out in the NL West.  His nine-year run with the Los Angeles Dodgers was very successful.  The center fielder had six seasons with more than 20 homers and 75+ RBI.  In that 2011 MVP runner-up season he led the National League in homers (39) and RBI (126).

Kemp registered an OPS (on base plus slugging) over the .750 mark in eight of his ten seasons in LA.  He was a two-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner during his time in LA.

Outside of an injury-riddled 2013 season, Kemp has one of most feared hitters in all of baseball over his career.  Before the start of last season, the Dodgers moved the expensive centerfielder (Kemp is being paid $21.5 million per year through 2019) to the division rival Padres for pitcher Joe Weiland, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and now-Phillies prospect pitcher Zach Eflin.

Kemp enjoyed a nice bounce back season with the Padres in 2015, hitting for a .265/.312/.443 slash line with 23 homers and 100 RBI. Not too shabby for a guy who had arthritis in both hips.

The Phillies will be faced with the task of cooling down Kemp’s hot start to 2016.  Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vincent Velasquez will have the chance to keep Kemp in the shadows of this series.  How do they accomplish that task?

Kemp is capable of spraying the ball all over the field when he hits it in the air.  However, he is a heavy pull hitter when keeping it on the ground, meaning the Phillies will more than likely shift him on the left side.

If they plan on such a strategy, it would be smart for all four starting pitchers to keep busting the ball in on Kemp.  It would benefit the Phils’ hurlers to force his hands into driving balls into that shift.  At the same time, they need to be careful.  If you miss in, Kemp can turn on a ball and put it over the left field wall with ease, especially at a bandbox like Citizens Bank Park.

On the other hand, Kemp is susceptible down and away in the zone.  If the Phillies would rather go that route, they have the arms to do it.  Nola, Eickhoff, and Velasquez proved that they can keep the ball down and locate pitches on the edge. Each one has a fastball they are able to spot down and away in the strike zone.

In terms of splits, Kemp hits both righties and lefties well (.276/.330/.468 and .327/.388/.552 respectively).  Late-game matchups with Kemp are all about pitch location and not about right-handers or left-handers.

Neris or Gomez would be the best matchup at this point because of pitch location and selection.  However, in a four game series, Pete Mackanin will not have them both available every day, especially after both have already thrown each of the last two days.

The Padres now 31-year old right fielder has to be the main focus for the Phillies this week.  While he may not be the player he once was, he is showing signs of a solid 2016 early in the campaign.  It will be up to the Phillies to try to contain him starting Monday afternoon in the club’s 2016 home opener.

Next: What We Learned in the First Week