Dodgers to meet up again with postseason nemesis St. Louis

Dodgers to meet up again with postseason nemesis St. Louis
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina after hitting a two-run home run against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS last season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The confetti fell. In front of the mound, the St. Louis Cardinals mobbed each other.

Feet away, Carl Crawford, who had made the last out, walked slowly to the Dodgers dugout. A bus waited outside. Eventually, it would take the Dodgers back to Los Angeles for the final time of the 2014 season.


It was Oct. 7, and the Cardinals had just eliminated the Dodgers from the postseason — again. Since then, the Dodgers have not had to face their bete noire until the three-game series in St. Louis that starts Friday.

Baseball players rarely play up a regular-season series, especially one in May against an opponent outside the division. But this one is different. The Dodgers have played the Cardinals in their last three postseason trips, and the Cardinals have eliminated them both of the last two years.

Regarding the series' importance, the Dodgers have either avoided the question — like the reliably honest A.J. Ellis, who dodged, "I'm not a big fan of preview questions" — or have been blunt.

"It's definitely a little bit different than playing a Milwaukee or someone," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said, "not to downplay Milwaukee."

The Dodgers and Cardinals will play seven times in the regular season, all within a span of 10 days. Both teams lead their divisions. There is more at stake than a typical regular-season series.

Still, the Dodgers will not start either of their best two pitchers, Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke, this weekend. Greinke, who pitched Thursday, would not have enough rest. But Kershaw could pitch on regular rest Sunday, if Mattingly wished.

The start would have provided more than a chance to beat a rival. Few teams have hit Kershaw as well as the Cardinals. Their success against him has become the central mystery of the Dodgers' lack of postseason success.

Against the Cardinals in the regular season, Kershaw is 5-5 with a 3.46 earned-run average, the highest of any National League opponent. In the postseason, he's 0-4 with a 6.13 ERA.

Perhaps another start would give Kershaw a chance to figure out the lineup. Mattingly decided against it.

"We want to be able to give these guys the extra day," Mattingly said. "Through the long season, I think it's really important. It seems like Kersh and Greinke are both guys that are really regimented."

Both are expected to pitch in the four-game home series against the Cardinals starting June 4, and that seemed to satisfy Kershaw.

"I'm pitching against them at some point," he said.

Recently, the Dodgers have made the biggest off-season splashes, but the Cardinals have been a model of consistency. They have reached the National League championship series in four consecutive seasons, and their results there have stayed true to the law of averages: they have advanced to two World Series and won one.

This season the Cardinals lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, to an Achilles' tendon tear. Yet they have continued to win. Entering the series, they boast the best record in baseball.


"They're probably the best team in the National League right now," Ellis said.

Their success is one part steady lineup and one part cheap, homegrown pitching. Matt Holliday has reached base safely in all 43 games this season, and four regulars are hitting over .300.

They lack an ace, but Michael Wacha, who is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA, has done a pretty convincing impression. He's one of four starters who came up in the Cardinals' organization.

The only starter who hasn't pitched his entire career in St. Louis is the veteran John Lackey, and last season's trade to acquire him has proven savvy this season. He owns a 3.18 ERA, which is not bad for a player making just $500,000.

Wainwright is owed $19.5 million this season, but the rest of the rotation combined makes less than $18 million — just slightly more than the Dodgers owe injured pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu. And closer Trevor Rosenthal, another product of the farm system, is owed $535,000.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us," Ellis said. "Especially going in there without Zack or Clayton on the mound."