Team-first culture explains Dodgers' success

Team-first culture explains Dodgers' success

Team-first culture explains Dodgers' success
LOS ANGELES -- Next to each day's lineup card and workout schedule, there's a sign in the Dodgers' clubhouse that's hard for the players to miss.

It reads: "Players win games; teams win championships." In case any of the players have trouble understanding, it's translated in eight other languages from Japanese to French to German.

It's a cliche coaches tell players in locker rooms across the country in any sport on any level.

But in the Dodgers' clubhouse, it provides the best possible answer as to why this mixed-and-matched bunch of journeymen and callups have been able to string together the best record in baseball at 42-25.

"It's a group of guys that are playing together, that like each other and believe in themselves and believe they can accomplish things that nobody else thinks they can accomplish," manager Don Mattingly said, trying to pinpoint the one reason behind his team's success.

The simple fact that the Dodgers are winning this much is surprising, but not shocking.

What is shocking is that they are doing it with superstar Matt Kemp on the disabled list for the second time this season and with ace Clayton Kershaw sporting a 1-2 record with a 4.73 ERA over the past three weeks.

"There's a lot of confidence in that dugout," said Kershaw on Friday. "I can't explain it and I don't know why it's happening the way it is, but it's a fun time to be a Dodger right now."

This past series against the White Sox is a prime example of just that. On Friday, the Dodgers came back from a four-run deficit in the sixth inning to win on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth. The team dug itself into a similar hole the next day and erased another four-run deficit before eventually losing a heartbreaker.

The team mounted a comeback on Sunday in the ninth inning to tie the game and won it in the 10th on a Dee Gordon walk-off single.

"There's no egos in here," said Tony Gwynn, who scored the game-winning run Sunday after a one-out triple. "Guys put their egos aside and do whatever is asked of them. There's talent in here, regardless of if it's All-Star talent or not."

Gwynn, with his third team in seven years, has filled in center field and he's hitting .350 with runners in scoring position. Jerry Hairston, with his ninth club in 15 years, is hitting .314 and getting a chance to play nearly every day. Juan Rivera, with his fifth team in 12 years, hit a game-winning three-run home run against the Angels last week. And then there's 17-year veteran Bobby Abreu, who is hitting .320 since being cast away by the crosstown Angels earlier this season.

In the rotation, Chris Capuano is having his best year in eight seasons with an 8-2 record with a 2.71 ERA, and if Aaron Harang's current 3.59 ERA holds up, it would be the best mark of his 11-year career.

But it's not just well-traveled players, it's also the callups.

Super utility man Elian Herrera is hitting .305 and is providing arguably the most consistent bat in the lineup. Rookie Nathan Eovaldi has a 1.82 ERA in four starts while filling in for injured Ted Lilly. Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus have all provided late-game heroics when called upon.

"Guys in this clubhouse know their roles and they accept it," Andre Ethier said. "Whether it be a guy who starts or a guy who fills in or a guy comes in and gets a key pinch-hit or spot start."

For Mattingly, he said he has been on only a couple of teams over the years that has played this well together with this much confidence.

At this point in the season, obstacles like four-run holes and ninth-inning deficits don't seem that hard to overcome.

"Most teams get along," Mattingly said. "But they are united in the purpose. They are playing as a we. If you get guys that play as a group, they hold themselves accountable. It doesn't happen that often."

Mattingly said the Dodgers had the same type of chemistry last year and it's a lot of the same guys back this season. At this point in 2011, the team was 8 1/2 games out in the National League West with a 31-41 record. Now, the Dodgers have a five-game lead over the Giants in the division. This current group might have just needed some time together as it went 41-28 after the All-Star break in 2011, showing maybe that this season isn't such a fluke.

To Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, the 2012 team doesn't remind him of last year's squad, but rather a successful one that he managed.

"It's a lot like my 1988 team," Lasorda said. "We didn't have an overabundance of guys who were great, but we had guys who were great together, and I think that is what you are seeing now."

There is a banner for each Dodgers World Series team hanging from the rafters up and down the clubhouse. It just so happens that the 1988 banner with the iconic image of a limping Kirk Gibson rounding the bases is right above the aforementioned sign that says it is "Teams that win championships."

With Kemp on the mend and Kershaw capable of turning things around, there's a feeling in the Dodgers' clubhouse that another one of those banners could be hanging in the future.

Alex Angert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.