Midseason turnaround highlights Dodgers' year
Kershaw, Puig and Hanley starred in 2013, but club ultimately fell short of Series
LOS ANGELES -- In three months' time this year, the Dodgers went from sinking to the division cellar to swimming in the D-backs' pool, a turnaround so unexpected it saved manager Don Mattingly's job.
As usual, you never know what you'll get from the Dodgers, but they sure were entertaining in 2013, even if the season came to a crash-and-burn in St. Louis with eventual National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on the mound.
With a $230 million payroll, the Dodgers snapped a three-year postseason drought by overcoming a wave of early season injuries that claimed Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Mark Ellis and Ted Lilly, among others. They did it with Matt Kemp virtually useless because of a series of injuries that have left his future uncertain.
They did it with their manager in jeopardy, even though he seems to have unlocked the secret to keeping Ramirez happy and playing hard.
With second-time Cy Young Award winner Kershaw heading a dominant starting rotation and the offense responding to the energy of rookie Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers unleashed their greatest in-season comeback in franchise history and dispatched the Braves in the first round of the playoffs before losing the NL Championship Series in six games to the Cardinals.
Adrian Gonzalez was the most consistent offensive performer with a .293 average and 100 RBIs. But Ramirez was the most dynamic when he was healthy enough to play and Puig the most amazing during his first month on the job, although his production diminished as the opposition adjusted to his unbridled aggressiveness at the plate.
Kenley Jansen emerged as a dominant closer after taking the job from Brandon League. The Dodgers got a big season out of left-handed reliever J.P. Howell -- a late addition when Scott Elbert was injured -- who teamed with Paco Rodriguez. And in one of their better in-season acquisitions, Brian Wilson solidified the eighth inning in a comeback after a second Tommy John surgery.
The Ellises -- A.J. behind the plate and Mark at second base -- again were underrated leaders, while Andre Ethier fought off a painful leg injury and shifted to center field when the Dodgers had no other option. Juan Uribe stepped up to take the third-base job from Luis Cruz and revived his career just in time for free agency.
The highlights of 2013:
Clayton Kershaw: If he isn't the next Sandy Koufax, he's the closest the Dodgers have ever come to it. Kershaw won his second Cy Young Award and third consecutive MLB ERA title, and he's only 25. He was durable enough to pitch on short rest in October, and the statistical comparisons now include Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Doc Gooden. He has the lowest career ERA since 1920, led the Major Leagues in WHIP and was the first Dodgers pitcher to win the Roy Campanella Award for spirit and leadership -- the whole package.
The Turnaround: On June 22, the Dodgers were 30-42, 9 1/2 games out of first place, and Don Mattingly was on the verge of being fired. They won 42 of their next 50 games -- the second-best 50-game stretch in history -- including a Los Angeles-record 15 consecutive road games. They clinched the division on Sept. 19, the earliest in Los Angeles history, and celebrated by partying in the pool at Chase Field, infuriating the rival D-backs. The 11-game margin over runner-up Arizona was the largest in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
Yasiel Puig/Hyun-Jin Ryu Mania: After abandoning the international talent market for the last decade, the Dodgers returned with a vengeance, outspending rivals for the Cuban outfielder Puig and the Korean southpaw Ryu. Within a year of their signing, each player exceeded expectations. Puig was an instant sensation, winning player and rookie of the month awards in June, his arrival only briefly preceding the turnaround. He went from Double-A to the most indispensable outfielder of the group, although his inexperience and immaturity often left staff, fans and teammates with heads shaking. Ryu was solid and consistent, seamlessly adjusting to his new environment to slot in as the third starter with 14 wins and a 3.00 ERA.
Those Injuries: Seventeen players made 24 trips to the disabled list. Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome), Billingsley (Tommy John elbow reconstruction), Elbert (Tommy John) and Shawn Tolleson (herniated disk surgery) were lost for the rest of the year. Kemp had a physical nightmare of a season that included a strained hamstring but ended with a pair of surgeries -- microfracture on a broken ankle and cleanup of the A/C joint atop the shoulder. Ramirez was missed even more, sidelined a month with a strained hamstring and another month after right-thumb surgery. Greinke contributed to the slow start when he suffered a broken collarbone in a brawl with San Diego's Carlos Quentin. After the season, trainer Sue Falsone resigned.
10th Man Returns: In 2011, the last full season under previous ownership, home attendance slumped below 3 million for the first time since 1995. New ownership won back the fans with aggressive player acquisition and a $100 million stadium improvement. Home attendance jumped 27 percent to nearly 3.75 million with 29 sellouts, the most since 1983.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.