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“These guys have all played on championship teams and they are guys who understand the battle and how to be prepared during a game,” Mattingly said. “I don’t have to let these guys know they might be pinch hitting. They know the situation and are prepared for it.”

The way the Dodgers were put together seemed almost haphazard at the time, with the team loading up on huge salaries in a trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez and others from Boston and Ramirez from Boston. They then outbid everyone to get Puig for $42 million, signed South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin for $36 million and, for good measure, gave Zack Greinke a $147 million deal.

Now Ryu and Puig may battle it out for rookie of the year, Greinke is pitching solidly and Gonzalez is a run-producing machine. The bullpen is filled with former closers and current closer Kenley Jansen has been dominant, including a stretch from July 23 to Aug. 8 where he put down 27 consecutive batters over a 10-game stretch.

And Mattingly? He’s gone from being on the hot seat to being a new star in a town filled with them.

“It’s a lot more fun than it was a month or so ago, that’s for sure,” Mattingly said.

If only he could say the same thing about getting out of the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg