Dodgers reversing last year's failures

Updated: March 5, 2011, 11:08 AM ET
By Buster Olney

There is a new manager in town in Don Mattingly, and maybe the change is the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers' camp feels different this year. Or maybe it's because the core group of young Dodgers -- Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley -- crashed into the first real episode of collective failure in their careers last season.

The Dodgers were 25-18 on May 22, and then the sloppy defensive play they had managed to overcome began eroding their playoff hopes; after losing their first six games after the All-Star break, L.A. was largely irrelevant down the stretch.

But this spring, a lot of the Dodgers showed up early to camp, and they are doing more work, and the work is more diligent, in the eyes of general manager Ned Colletti. "I think they've all taken on a new sense of urgency," Colletti said Friday. "I've seen longer work, and more attention to detail."

Which is necessary, because the division which a decade ago often seemed pathetic has consistently generated some of baseball's best races and best teams in recent years. Over the past four seasons, five of the eight teams to reach the National League Championship Series have come from the NL West: the Dodgers twice, the San Francisco Giants, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks (the Philadelphia Phillies are the only other NL team to advance that far, three times). The Giants are the current champions, the Padres won 90 games last season, the Diamondbacks have improved their bullpen, the Rockies have a powerful core of players and a deep roster and the Dodgers greatly improved their rotation from a year ago, with the development of Clayton Kershaw and the addition of Ted Lilly.

"The teams that have won [in the NL West] have done it with pitching and defense, and we're no different," Colletti said. "It's going to come down to executing, to making plays. You have to be fundamentally sound to win this division. If you can't execute, you can't win."