June 18, 2018
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First-place Dodgers riding high behind Kemp, Ethier

By BETH HARRIS, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — At 9-1, the Los Angeles Dodgers own the top record in the majors and are off to their best start since 1981, when they won their last World Series title. With new ownership and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier piling up hits, the bad feelings from the Frank McCourt era are beginning to fade.

The Dodgers spent the first two weeks of the season beating up on San Diego and Pittsburgh, two of the NL’s weakest teams. They’re 6-0 at home and are the lone remaining team in the majors with one loss for the first time since 1955, when the Dodgers won their first World Series in Brooklyn.

Kemp earned his second consecutive NL player of the week honor Monday, having led the majors with a .545 average in six games last week.

“It’s very early, a long season,” he said. “Guys are gunning for you, so I have to work just as hard as the next guy who is trying to get me out.”

Kemp hasn’t missed a beat in picking up where he left off last season, when he was runner-up to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun as NL MVP. He leads the majors in eight offensive categories, including average (.487), home runs (six), runs (13) and RBIs (16).

Ethier is batting .289, with three homers and 15 RBIs. Both he and Kemp are known for their strong April numbers.

“We can definitely get higher,” Kemp said about the team. “Right now we’re really confident in ourselves. It’s a long season and we just have to keep pushing.”

The sale of the Dodgers to a group fronted by retired Lakers superstar Magic Johnson has been approved by a federal bankruptcy court, with the deal set to close by April 30.

Fans are showing up to games again after staying away in droves last season, when off-field developments involving McCourt taking the franchise into bankruptcy and his fights with ex-wife Jamie, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his creditors overshadowed anything the team did.

“Winning changes everything,” Kemp said. “It changes the atmosphere in the ballpark, the atmosphere in the clubhouse.”

The Dodgers have started the season healthy. Among the regulars, only James Loney is slumping. The first baseman is hitting .148, with 2 RBIs and one run scored. Loney took a long time to get going last season, too. Eventually, he hit .388 with seven homers in his last 35 games to retain his starting job.

NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw has yet to earn a decision in three starts, while Chad Billingsley is 2-0. Javy Guerra has settled in as the closer, and he leads the majors with five saves.

The team has benefited from some breaks early on.

Two of its wins at home against the Padres came in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers turned a bizarre triple play on Sunday to keep the game tied going into the bottom half of the ninth.

“There’s no notation or asterisk that tells how you won the game,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “This wave won’t ride forever. We’re going to be on the end of some heartbreakers.”

The Dodgers open a six-game trip to Milwaukee and Houston on Tuesday.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Kemp said. “We’re finding ways to win. Whatever it is, we’re getting it done.”

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