Unlikely cast lifts LA to 4th straight crown

Rookie manager guides Dodgers through rash of injuries

Unlikely cast lifts LA to 4th straight crown

LOS ANGELES -- Not since the last Dodgers World Series squad of 1988 has Vin Scully called a more improbable first-place team than the 2016 edition, which clinched a fourth consecutive division title Sunday.

The Dodgers accomplished their mission with an unprecedented 32 placements on the disabled list, including almost the entire starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw was down for 2 1/2 months, and for most of the season Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood were out.

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When Kershaw went down in late June, they trailed the Giants by eight games.

"Obviously it looked bleak for a second, eight games out, but the way the team responded to all the injuries, and the consistency from the position players, that gets overlooked," Kershaw said.

Scully speaks to Dodgers crowd

Despite all of the injuries, the Dodgers have been remarkably consistent this year. They had only one losing month (12-13 in April) and finished strong (16-6 so far in September). They trailed by 5 1/2 games coming out of the All-Star break on July 15 and were in first place to stay by Aug. 21. They were 11 games above .500 in the first half and are 12 games above .500 in the second half.

Get official NL West champs gear

No small contributing factors: the Dodgers went 42-28 within a rather weak division and were a dominant 53-28 at home. And, the Giants collapsed. They were 49-28 on June 26, 33-46 since.

As a result, the Dodgers are the first team in NL West history to win the division in four consecutive seasons, with at least 90 wins each year. The last MLB team to win four straight division titles was the Detroit Tigers (2011-14, AL Central) and the last NL club to do so was the Philadelphia Phillies, who won the NL East in five consecutive seasons from 2007-11.

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Dave Roberts joined Tommy Lasorda (1977) as the only rookie managers to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a division title, while president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi assembled their second division champion in as many seasons with the club.

Postseason schedule

"I really think the turning point was a couple days after Kersh went down," said Zaidi. "You lose the best player in the game, you're going to spend some time feeling sorry for yourself. And then it's how you move on from that moment. Make no mistake, having him back these past few weeks has been a huge boost too."

Friedman presented a deep and gritty roster to Roberts, who deftly maneuvered it to become a solid candidate for Manager of the Year.

Roberts has led a team that didn't beat itself with careless mistakes, one that dependably makes the routine plays and occasionally the spectacular ones. Since Spring Training he stressed playing hard all 27 outs and the results have included 45 comeback wins.

"The thing I'm most pleased with is we've made no excuses and we've persevered," said Roberts. "We've got a tough group of players. In life and in sports there's always talk about accountability and reasons why you don't have success, but our guys don't have that and I think that's the thing I can hang my hat on."

Roberts, however, does concede the team mentality took some time to gain traction. It was not there at the start. 

"It took constant communication from the coaching staff and being consistent. And to the players' credit, they bought in. It was a work in progress all year long."

The Dodgers will open the best-of-five National League Division Series on Friday, Oct. 7 against the National League East champion Washington Nationals, who hold a 1 1/2 game lead over the Dodgers for the home-field advantage in that matchup.

Along with the injuries, the Dodgers had to deal with the diminishing skills of Carl Crawford and Alex Guerrero, who were released; the lack of discipline by Yasiel Puig, who is having a September revival after an August demotion to the Minor Leagues; and a lack of run production in the first half when, among other issues, Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal were slow to heal from offseason surgeries. Adrian Gonzalez's power is down, but he's headed for another 90-plus RBI season. Joc Pederson joined Grandal, Turner and Corey Seager with at least 24 homers.

Seager delivered a likely Rookie of the Year season and will be in the conversation for MVP.

"You could never have written it up like this," said Seager. "I had a lot of people help me to make it turn out the way it has."

Seager on his clutch game

But the Dodgers also received key contributions from fellow rookies Julio Urias, Grant Dayton, Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart, Andrew Toles, Rob Segedin, Brock Stewart and Josh Ravin.

"Having that many young guys come up and perform was huge," said Zaidi. "I've seen over the years how hard it is for young players to come up and hit the ground running, but for guys like Toles and Dayton to do it and sustain it, you don't see it often with this volume of players."

Kenley Jansen, with free agency awaiting, had arguably his best season as closer, and setup man Joe Blanton continued his career renaissance to lead a selfless bullpen that repeatedly bailed out early-departing starters, piling up a club record for appearances and innings pitched in relief.

Kenta Maeda, who failed a pre-signing physical because of arm issues, proved to be the rotation workhorse in his first season out of Japan, technically making him a rookie, too. Veteran leaders Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick, unsure of playing time after they signed, had more than 500 plate appearances each.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.