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Dodgers playing for team history, individual honors as calendar flips to September

DENVER -- Already with an unprecedented three consecutive playoff appearances to their credit, the Los Angeles Dodgers can make it four in a row by closing strong in September.

Never under the lengthy tenures of managers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda had the Dodgers reached the postseason in three straight years, much less four, and the combination of managers Don Mattingly and Dave Roberts can complete the feat now.

Also at stake for the Dodgers is a fourth consecutive National League West title. Since the division era began, the Dodgers’ longest run of consecutive NL West titles before this one was two seasons, the most recent being 2008-09. They also did it from 1994-95 and 1977-78.

For his effort, Roberts is squarely in the manager of the year conversation, an honor Mattingly never received. Roberts’ plaudits are coming after he has guided a team racked with injuries, including the back injury to Clayton Kershaw that has kept the staff ace out for over two months.

The last Dodgers skipper to land manager of the year honors was Lasorda in 1988.

Roberts got the Dodgers to this point on the will of a heavily used bullpen and a revived offense led by rookie Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner. The 2-3 combination in the lineup helped get the Dodgers going in mid-June, perfectly timed to give the team a lift in the absence of Kershaw.

Although he would have preferred to hand out set roles for all of his relievers behind closer Kenley Jansen, Roberts has instead gone to the hot hand to set up saves. Chris Hatcher, Pedro Baez, Adam Liberatore and Joe Blanton have all been used in the eighth inning to get the ball to Jansen at some point this year, some with more success than others.

Fans might not have liked Roberts’ belief in Hatcher and Baez during key situations, but in giving his players another chance to prove themselves, a trust was earned up and down the roster. When the offense floundered in April and May, Roberts showed that same trust with his lineup regulars and it eventually paid off.

Turner, Howie Kendrick and Yasmani Grandal were all mired in deep early slumps, but all were given enough leeway to emerge.

“Guys are buying in, taking good at-bats and getting good results,” Turner said. “We had a lot of guys struggling early in the year, myself included. Dave showed a lot of confidence in us and kept running us out there, running us out there. We’re getting good results now as a collective unit, so it’s going well.”

Several individuals have plenty at stake, too, as the regular season winds down in the final month:

Corey Seager

The favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year award has all but wrapped up that honor. Seager has been consistent in compiling a .320 batting average with a .540 slugging percentage, with 23 home runs and 62 RBIs. The home runs are the most in one season from a Dodgers shortstop. It has earned him a seat at the table of MVP candidates, but he isn’t quite one of the favorites in that chase of yet. Seager was also tied for the third-highest batting average in the NL, behind DJ LeMahieu and Daniel Murphy. The last Dodger to win an NL batting title? Tommy Davis in 1962 and 1963.

Kenley Jansen

Sure, the big right-hander has six blown saves, but he is having one of the best seasons by a relief pitcher despite it. He has been as valuable as any reliever in the game this year, entering the week with a major league-leading 0.69 WHIP. His .150 batting average against was second in the NL and his 80 strikeouts ranked fifth among NL relievers. He has only walked nine batters. This season alone, he not only set the Dodgers' career save record, but he also set the club’s strikeouts record for a reliever. Not a bad way to go into free agency if he keeps it up in September and beyond.

Clayton Kershaw

No individual awards are at stake for one of the best pitchers in the game, but a return to the Dodgers before the season ends could help in a number of areas. The Dodgers certainly could use a front-of-the-rotation presence down the stretch and on into October. And a healthy Kesrshaw, who is able to go deep into games, could help preserve the bullpen for the stretch drive. More will be known in the coming days about the recovery from the disk herniation in his lower back.