The other day Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan reported on a meeting between Boston Red Sox players and management concerning the team’s feelings over manager Bobby Valentine.  I had heard from Red Sox fans that the team did not enjoy playing for Valentine, little did I know how toxic the environment had become in Boston before reading Passan’s article.

Apparently, two of the team’s main leaders, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, were among the most vocal in the meeting.  One of the breaking points for the team had been a start in July against the Toronto Blue Jays in which struggling starter Jon Lester was left in a blowout game to give up 11 earned runs in 4 innings.  Boston ownership has steadfastly stood by Valentine, insisting he will at least finish out the season as manager.

When seeing things like this in the news, Dodgers fans should be thankful for Don Mattingly, who at this point has to be considered among the best managers in the game, and is certainly a candidate for Manager of the Year.  Mattingly was given a sub-par team last year that was constantly surrounded by controversy off the field due to the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce.  However, the Dodgers finished the season strong, salvaging a record above .500, and looking to regain traction in the NL West in 2012.

With a healthy lineup to start the season, the Blue Crew bolted out of the gates, only to be slowed by injuries to both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.  Before their absences, however, Mattingly had managed to piece together winning lineups with journeymen and unproven players such as Luis Cruz, Elian Herrera, and Jerry Hairston, Jr.

The Dodgers’ winning ways are even more impressive with L.A. being dead-last in the NL in slugging percentage, and having hit the fewest home runs of any club in MLB.  That is thanks in no small part to the Dodgers pitching staff which is second in MLB with 3.32 team ERA.

Why is Don Mattingly so key to the Dodgers success?  Mainly in keeping his players motivated and wanting to give it their all everyday.  As well, Donnie Baseball is not afraid to make the tough decisions and tell a player when to sit, as has been evidenced by his handling of James Loney and Juan Uribe this season, two of the Dodgers’ highest paid and under-performing players.

The enigmatic Loney provides outstanding defense at first base and has been a 90 RBI man in the past.  However, Loney is hitting a weak .252 with only two home runs and 31 RBI this season, and has yielded playing time to the defensively challenged, but offensively more productive Juan Rivera (.243, six home runs, 39 RBI).

The left-side of the Dodgers infield has been a wish-wash between the struggles of 8 million dollar man Juan Uribe (.186, two home runs, 17 RBI), and the inability of speedster Dee Gordon to get on base.

The Dodgers front office was aggressive at the trade deadline, though, bolstering the lineup with the acquisitions of Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez.  Combined with the emergence of Cruz as a versatile defensive infielder, and clutch hitter, the Dodgers lineup has been solidified.

Mattingly has maintained, whoever is producing, will play.  Mattingly always displays the utmost confidence in his players, and is never afraid to come out and mix it up with the umpires.  Mattingly had received criticism for his lack of managerial experience in a game where he filled in for then-manager Joe Torre, causing Jonathan Broxton to be removed from a close game by inadvertently making a second trip to the pitcher’s mound after turning around to answer a question from Loney.

Mattingly has silenced all the doubters, however, as the Dodgers currently sit in first place atop the NL West and appear to be the team to beat in the division.

Matt Kemp had his worst year in 2010 when he struggled to see eye-to-eye with Joe Torre’s staff, namely then bench coach Bob Schaefer.  Don Mattingly and his staff eased off Kemp and allowed him to become the MVP runner-up last year.  Hanley Ramirez’s production had greatly tailed off in Miami, so much so, that the Marlins were willing to part ways with him.  Hanley had become unhappy in Miami, however, and his introduction to Los Angeles has been a happy one, evidenced by his production (21 RBI in 21 games).  It’s clear that Donnie B, as Kemp has referred to Mattingly, has created a positive environment where players are allowed to be themselves and enjoy playing the game.

The Dodgers are 9-5 in August, just falling short of a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates today, and are sole possessors of first place.  Can Don Mattingly guide the Dodgers to October for the first time in three years?

There are 43 games remaining in the regular season for the Dodgers, and the majority of those will be played at home and within the NL West.  The only major road trip remaining for the Dodgers is a six-game trip in mid-September to Washington and Cincinnati.  The road will be tough, but Don Mattingly will have the Blue Crew ready.

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