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Big finish puts Mattingly in line for managerial honors

Dodgers skipper helped club weather slow start, injuries to capture NL West

LOS ANGELES -- All three candidates for National League Manager of the Year had their teams in the playoffs in 2013.

But only Don Mattingly's Dodgers advanced to the NL Championship Series. If that doesn't make him Manager of the Year when the winner is revealed Tuesday at 3 p.m. PT on MLB Network, Comeback Manager of the Year honors should be a lock.

There's no such award because it's just not normal for a manager about to be fired in June to come within two wins of the World Series in the same year.

But that's what happened to Mattingly this year. The Dodgers finished third and second in Mattingly's first two seasons in charge, which were hampered by ownership turmoil and a resulting frugal payroll. This year, ownership gave Mattingly an expensive and talented roster and wanted to see what he could do with it.

The season started with a wave of injuries. By mid-June, with the team in last place and rumors of Mattingly's imminent firing, the Dodgers unleashed what became the greatest in-season comeback in franchise history -- and one of the greatest in baseball history.

So, if Mattingly was in the firing line for the losing, should he be honored for the winning?

The Dodgers finished the season with a 92-70 record and won the NL West title by 11 games, the largest margin in Los Angeles history. They defeated Atlanta, 3-1, in the NL Division Series, and lost to St. Louis, 4-2, in the NL Championship Series.

The Dodgers became the fourth club to finish in first place after being in last place on July 1 or later, and the fourth team to win a division in a season in which they were at least 12 games below .500. They are the third team to rally from at least 9 1/2 games back to win by at least 10 games. Included in the comeback was the best 50-game stretch in franchise history -- beginning on June 22 -- going 42-8.

No previous Los Angeles club had a first-place margin of 11 games or clinched the division as early as Sept. 19. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2013 Dodgers joined the 1911 Philadelphia Athletics and 1914 Boston Braves as the only clubs to trail by as much as 9 1/2 games and finish first by at least 10 games.

At one point, the club won 15 consecutive road games -- the first NL team to do that since 1957, and it went unbeaten in 18 consecutive series. Los Angeles went from 12 games below .500 to finish 22 games above.

Mattingly had to overcome 25 disabled-list placements. Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery), Josh Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome) and Scott Elbert (Tommy John surgery) were lost for virtually the entire season. Matt Kemp went on the disabled list three times, had two operations and his status for next year is uncertain. Andre Ethier played on a microfractured leg. Hanley Ramirez suffered four serious injuries, including a broken rib that rendered him useless in the NLCS.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers