Dodgers rode duo to another NL West title in '15

Dodgers rode duo to another NL West title in '15

LOS ANGELES -- No Dodgers club had finished first in the division for three consecutive seasons until 2015, when Los Angeles spent the final 127 days of the regular season at the top of the National League West and led by eight games at the end.

This was the franchise's third-largest winning margin since the inception of division play in 1969. The Dodgers were especially successful within the division (46-30, .605) and showed a vastly improved defense.

The Dodgers put five players in the All-Star Game -- Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Yasmani Grandal, Clayton Kershaw and Joc Pederson. Justin Turner showed for a second season that he's legit, Kenley Jansen was reliable after returning from foot surgery, and the club was consistent enough to never have a month with a losing record.

But the Dodgers weren't perfect. During a first offseason in charge, management passed on every premier free agent, preferring trades and incremental improvement around the margins with mixed results.

Attempts to improve starting-pitching depth resulted in Brett Anderson's breakthrough, but also Brandon McCarthy's breakdown. At the Trade Deadline, with rotation depth dangerously thin, management acquired Alex Wood and Mat Latos instead of Cole Hamels or David Price.

Dealing away Matt Kemp before last season landed catching depth in Yasmani Grandal, but Kemp's feared bat and RBIs were never replaced. There were no complaints about Howie Kendrick's clutch bat and steady play at second base, but his acquisition was the result of management liking his game better than Dee Gordon's. So Gordon took his game-changing speed to Miami and hauled in multiple awards, while the Dodgers played station to station.

The Dodgers led the league in home runs at the expense of situational hitting, finishing eighth in runs scored and runners stranded. The bullpen, arguably the weakest link coming out of 2014, still is. Injuries were widespread and lasting, although constant roster manipulation skewed the meaning of disabled list stints.

Here's a look at the five key moments from the 2015 season:

1. Kershaw's "sense of urgency" comments

Although players overwhelmingly cited the sweep of the Giants at home in early September as the season's defining moment, Kershaw's postgame interview following a sweep by the Astros in Houston can be viewed as the spark that was needed, because the Dodgers won five of the next six games going into that Giants series. The Dodgers won 13 of the 15 games after leaving Houston and extended their division lead over the Giants from 1 1/2 games to 8 1/2 games. 

2. Aces 

Greinke raised his game to the Kershaw level, giving the Dodgers a two-headed monster. But he pitched so well that opting out of his contract for a more lucrative deal was a no-brainer. It's rare when a pitcher is 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA and isn't the best on the staff. But in 2015, Kershaw's glittering numbers were bested by Greinke's 19-3, 1.66. Greinke was the game's most consistent starter from the beginning to the end of the season. Kershaw, though, gets an honorable mention for a season that included 301 strikeouts.

Kershaw is third in NL Cy Young

3. Hyun-Jin McCarthy

Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder surgery) never threw a pitch, and McCarthy (elbow surgery) made only six starts, which left the Dodgers scrambling for starting pitching throughout the season, postseason and into the offseason. Deadline acquisitions of Wood and Latos didn't resolve the issue.

4. Anderson's breakout performance 

Not only did Anderson stay healthy, he pitched more and better than a fifth starter should be expected to. He had a breakthrough season to shake the injury-prone tag. He accomplished more for the Dodgers than he had in any season since 2009, setting career highs in starts (31), innings pitched (180 1/3) and quality starts (18).

5. Eliminated again 

Alas, after all of the changes, the end result was the same. The Dodgers were bounced from the postseason in the first round again after winning two fewer games in the regular season than the previous year.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.