Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is congratulated by first baseman Adrian… (Christina House / For The…)
The Dodgers are heading into the off-season knowing that a new world awaits them on the other side of their winter vacation.
When they report to spring training in Arizona four months from now, they will face something they haven't faced in recent years.
"Lot of expectations, that's for sure," Clayton Kershaw said.
They are no longer the bankrupt franchise forced to piece together a 25-man roster with spare parts. They might start next season with a payroll of more than $200 million that will be unmatched in all of baseball.
The lineup is expected to include Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. And they won't be able to explain away failure by pointing to how little time they had to come together.
"There's going to be more pressure on us next year than what we had the last couple months," Ethier said. "But I think it's rightfully so."
Manager Don Mattingly also acknowledged the greater expectations. "We should just live up to them," he said. "I think we just admit them."
When their skeleton team was in first place early this season, the Dodgers were viewed as overachievers. A similar start next season won't be perceived the same way. Neither would the kind of midseason collapse they suffered this year.
"That's part of it," Mattingly said. "If we start with this club and they start hot, and then they don't play well, yeah, that's going to be huge disappointment."
The Dodgers didn't respond well to pressure this year. Only 2 1/2 games out of first place when they acquired Ramirez in July and three games back when they added Gonzalez a month later, the Dodgers finished the season eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
"I think anything you go through helps you be better, especially if it hurts you," Mattingly said. "You don't want it to happen again."
Mattingly will demand the same from these Dodgers as he did from the Dodgers that started James Loney at first base and Juan Uribe at third.
"It's going to get back to execution and playing the game the way it's supposed to be played and being prepared to play, all those little sayings that are important that no one pays attention to," he said. "It always comes down to the small stuff, the details of being prepared, the details of understanding situations, of understanding outs and innings and the scoreboard, when you do something, when you don't do it."
Mattingly was encouraged by the silence he heard in his team's clubhouse on the night the Dodgers were eliminated from postseason contention.
"Silence spoke volumes," he said. "You can see it all over their faces. That tells me you had a group of guys who were committed and invested in trying to get this thing done."
Players pointed to how they won seven of their last eight games.
"It's good to have [those] games as a basis for how we can play," Kershaw said. "That's how we should play for 162 next year. We have the core of our guys back, we have pretty much all the starters back."
Ethier believes clubhouse culture is something that can carry over from one season to the next. The 2011 Dodgers won 25 of their last 35 games. This year, they were in first place by a five-game margin on June 17 — and that was with Kemp on the disabled list.
"This team kept finding ways to win games," Ethier said. "I think that had a lot to do with what we went through last season and how we battled."
Ethier called on his team to regroup over the winter.
"We have a lot of days," he said. "That's the great thing about the off-season. It gives everybody time to refocus.
"We know our expectations. There should be one common goal."