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Mattingly likes what he sees as Dodgers near All Star break

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After a rocky start to the season, the Dodgers entered Sunday with the best record in the National League. With a 53-43 mark, Los Angeles is one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants with 66 left to play. At the conclusion of Sunday’s games, the All Star festivities will take center stage as the rest of baseball shuts down. As the break nears, Dodger manager Don Mattingly likes what he sees.

“I’m happy with where we’re at and with the effort and energy I’m getting,” Mattingly said. “At this point, we’ve been able to get ourselves where we want to be. Obviously we were 9½ games back at one point. Now we’ve settled in.”

Mattingly attributes much of the team’s success to the pitching staff. Starters Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, and Dan Haren are a combined 45-23. The rest of the Dodger pitchers have won only eight of 28 decisions, but Mattingly says relievers have been better than the stats suggest.

“The bullpen has been better the last month because the starters are going deeper into the game,” he explained. “I like our ‘pen.”

In his fourth year at the helm, Mattingly did identify areas the Dodgers can improve, pointing to Yasiel Puig’s base-running decisions.

“We’ve given up too many outs on the base paths,” Mattingly said. “We know Yasiel is fast, but he hasn’t proven that he’s a base stealer. I’ve seen a lot of guys who are fast who aren’t very good at stealing bases. We don’t want to give up any outs. We’ve got to minimize those mistakes.”

Puig is part of a crowded outfield that features Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford who have eight All Star appearances between them. Add Scott Van Slyke, who’s established himself as a reliable fourth outfielder and power threat, and it’s five players fighting for three spots.

Crawford has played in just 46 of the team’s first 96 games, after stints on the disabled list. The Dodger skipper was defensive before Sunday’s game when asked about Crawford’s first start since being activated from the DL. Mattingly praised Crawford and pointed to the outfielder's success against Padre starter Tyson Ross.

“I shouldn’t have to explain when Carl is in the lineup,” Mattingly said. “Carl’s a good player, he’s got good numbers against this guy. The only issue he’s had is staying healthy.”

Mattingly will have to juggle players and egos if the Dodgers are to succeed.

Issues aside, Mattingly likes his team's chances and welcomes the five days off before Los Angeles resumes play against the Cardinals on July 18.

We want our guys to enjoy the break,” he said. “On the flight to St. Louis, you want guys to be ready to go. We’re playing good baseball. Now we need to stay the course and get better at what we’re doing.”

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The article’s author, Jim Smiley welcomes your email feedback. Read more about Jim in part one and part two of an exclusive interview about his baseball experience.