Shrewd Colletti has LA eyeing October

Shrewd Colletti has LA eyeing October

LOS ANGELES -- Excluding strike-shortened seasons, the Dodgers haven't finished first in back-to-back seasons since 1977-78 or reached the postseason three times in a four-year span since 1963-66.

They're on the verge of doing both.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

Frank McCourt owns the Dodgers and Joe Torre manages them, but this is Ned Colletti's club. He traded for Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez, he refused to trade away Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, and he signed Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla.

Since the general manager took over four years ago, the only team in the league with more wins is Philadelphia. Colletti inherited a club that finished 20 games below .500, and in four years, the Dodgers are 50 games above .500. Colletti's best win-loss record of the four seasons will be this year -- after trimming the payroll by $20 million.

Until or unless his Dodgers win a World Series, Colletti's tenure will be highlighted by his stretch-run deals the past two seasons, packaging prospects for immediate impact players.

Nobody could have more impact than Ramirez last year, but Colletti has been equally successful plugging in overlooked and underrated players such as Casey Blake, whose professional demeanor and steady play haven't wavered this year.

"When a team plays hard and puts itself in position to win, they deserve to see that you're trying to get them more tools to win," said Colletti. "When a quality person like George Sherrill or Jim Thome walks in the clubhouse, players recognize that ownership and the front office are acknowledging what you've done."

Critics blame Colletti this year for not getting a Cliff Lee deal done at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, and even though the Dodgers were bidding for the ace until the end, Lee could haunt them this postseason.

But if the Dodgers get that far, it will be in part because of the deals that brought them Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard, Padilla, Jon Garland and Thome.

With Jonathan Broxton closing, Sherrill's eighth innings are sometimes overlooked. But he hasn't been scored upon in 22 of the 23 times Torre has used him, for a microscopic 0.42 ERA.


"When a team plays hard and puts itself in position to win, they deserve to see that you're trying to get them more tools to win."
-- Ned Colletti

"He's been here for six weeks," said Colletti, "and all you can think of him is getting outs. There's been a positive domino effect in the bullpen, because now you're not putting people in the seventh and eighth innings trying to find their way."

The versatile Belliard has three homers and eight RBIs in 13 games since coming from Washington for a pair of Minor Leaguers, seeing extended playing time because of Blake's hamstring and Orlando Hudson's slump. Colletti had similar success after acquiring Marlon Anderson three years earlier.

With injuries to Wolf and Kershaw, Padilla and Garland have been invaluable. Padilla hasn't shown any of the personality flaws that got him run out of Texas, just a model citizen who's gone 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA in four starts for the Dodgers. Garland has been right behind (2-0. 3.32 in three starts).

"Padilla was in some ways a gamble, but we felt it was one we could take with the strength of our clubhouse," Colletti said. "He's pitched very well for us."

Colletti is in the fourth and final guaranteed season of a contract that also includes a "mutual option" for 2010. He doesn't talk much about his status, but doesn't seem worried about it either.

He's more successful than the five general managers who preceded him, if not more secure, even with the failures of free-agent signings Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones.

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