Rotations in spotlight as Cards clash with Dodgers
St. Louis to face Greinke, Kershaw to begin NLCS; Kelly gets Game 1 start
ST. LOUIS -- With a 6-1 win over the Pirates in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday, the Cardinals sealed an NL Championship Series matchup against the NL West-champion Dodgers. The two teams faced each other seven times this season, though the results of those head-to-head games may not be all that accurate an indicator for what's on tap.
The Cardinals were at their best when they traveled to Los Angeles for a three-game series in May. They were nearing the end of a 20-win month and featured the most dominant rotation in baseball. What they found in L.A. was a Dodgers team underachieving and a manager who showed up to work amid rumors of his imminent firing.
St. Louis won two out of three, taking down Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano in the wins.
In the first week of August, the Dodgers arrived in St. Louis a much different club. They were baseball's hottest team, having won 14 straight road games and 31 of their last 38 overall. The Cards, in contrast, were in the midst of a 4-13 slide.
The Dodgers nabbed three wins in the four-game series. The Cardinals' lone victory came against Kershaw.
The Cardinals have since climbed out of that rut; the Dodgers cooled. Now two teams that have combined for 39 NL pennants will go against each other for another.
"They're a very good team," said Adam Wainwright, who pitched the Cards to their Game 5 win. "They're deep. It's going to be two good teams going at it. It's going to be important for us to show up and grind out every single inning like we did today, because they've got some great stuff going on over there. But we do, too."
The Cardinals know that they will face right-hander Zack Greinke and the lefty Kershaw in Games 1 and 2, respectively, at Busch Stadium. St. Louis saw plenty of Greinke during his days with Milwaukee but faced him just once this season. He held the Redbirds to two earned runs in a 6 1/3-inning August win.
Kershaw, the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, lost both of his starts against St. Louis in 2013. He was outdueled by Shelby Miller at Dodger Stadium and then in August by Joe Kelly at Busch Stadium.
The Cards, though, have struggled all season against lefties. They went 19-23 in games started by a southpaw and will again be without right-handed-hitting Allen Craig in the cleanup spot. The Cardinals also face the possibility of lining up against a lefty in as many as four games in the best-of-seven series.
That would be the case if the Dodgers opt to start Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3 and Game 7, if one is necessary.
"As we look at playing them, which we haven't had a lot of time to focus on, it's going to be a very good matchup," general manager John Mozeliak said. "They have very good starting pitching, and we have very good starting pitching. The middle of the order has some pop, as does theirs. Both teams play very solid defense. I think it should be a fun series, one that should be exciting. But, clearly, when you look at the starting pitching, that's probably going to be the story."
The Cards announced Thursday how their rotation will shake out. Kelly will start Game 1 and he'll have four full days of rest by Friday's series opener. Michael Wacha and Wainwright will slot in behind him on normal rest.
This will be Kelly's second postseason start. He held Pittsburgh to three runs (two earned) on five hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings in Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Sunday, but had no decision in the Cardinals' 5-3 loss. Kelly also tossed 7 2/3 innings of relief as a rookie in the 2012 playoffs.
"I thought he held his composure well," manager Mike Matheny said after Game 3. "He gave up a couple [runs], but then still made good pitches. ... I thought he really did show a lot in an atmosphere like this [in Pittsburgh]. He's a guy that we anticipate would be able to handle whatever came at him, and gave us a good chance to win today."
The Dodgers outscored the Cardinals, 30-27, in their seven games, though 13 of those runs were scored in a game Miller exited after two pitches due to being hit by a line drive.
St. Louis will be looking for its second World Series trip in three seasons. Los Angeles is seeking its first Fall Classic berth since 1988.
"Obviously, last year we had a good ride, but it didn't finish the way we'd have liked it to, and we have an opportunity to right the ship," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "We're looking forward to it. The Dodgers have a good team, and it's going to be a tough, hard-fought series, but we're ready for it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.