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NL Division Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers face off against Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

Clayton Kershaw

Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax never met in postseason games, so consider this an updated version of that pitching duel with different names.

When the Dodgers and Cardinals meet again in the postseason, this time in the Division Series, Clayton Kershaw will be opposing Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright has what Kershaw ultimately wants and that’s a pair of World Series rings in 2006 and 2011. The first one came two years before Kershaw made his Major League debut and the second ring came two years after these teams met in the Division Series.

Kershaw faced the Cardinals in Games Two and Six of last year’s NLCS and lost both games. Game Two was a 1-0 loss decided on a sacrifice fly by Jon Jay while Game Six was a 9-0 loss when the Cardinals tagged Kershaw for seven runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings.

The only time before Friday that this pitching matchup occurred in postseason play was Game Two of the 2009 NLDS. Neither pitcher had a decision as Kershaw allowed two runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings while Wainwright allowed one run and three hits in eight innings. Eventually the Dodgers won when Matt Holliday dropped a fly ball in left field, allowing two unearned runs to score in the ninth.

Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, having gone 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. Kershaw threw a no-hitter, led the league in ERA for the fourth straight season even with missing the first month due to injury, so think of what he might have achieved without being hurt.

Wainwright is not too far off and in any other year, he’d be the best pitcher in the game. Instead he’s the second-best and a really good second-best pitcher in the league. All Wainwright did was produce at least 19 wins for the fourth time since 2009 while also ranking third with a 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

Many pitchers take the mentality of facing the opposing lineup at least three times and not going against the opposing pitcher but this is a matchup tough to ignore.

Of course, this series is not just about the two most prominent starting pitchers in the league, let alone the game.

The Dodgers won their second straight NL West crown with an offense that had the second-highest average in the league, scored the second-most runs and stole the most bases. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Adrian Gonzalez (.276, 27 home runs and 116 RBI) and the support was provided by Yasiel Puig (.296, 16 home runs and 69 RBI), who batted .311 in the last two weeks following a .216 average in August.

Los Angeles returns seven of eight starters from last year’s playoff series. The only difference is Dee Gordon at second instead of Mark Ellis. Gordon stole 64 bases during the regular season and if he gets on, it could present a different look since the Dodgers swiped one base last season when they hit .211 in the NLCS.

The Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran to free agency and traded 2011 star David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Replacing them are Matt Carpenter, who transitioned from second to third base, and Kolten Wong at second base.

St. Louis scored the ninth-most runs in the NL and ranked last in the league with 105 home runs. The Cardinals also didn’t have a really good year in scoring position as they batted .254, down from the fluky .330 mark from last season.

St. Louis also dealt Allen Craig to the Boston Red Sox for John Lackey and that turned out to be a a mixed move since the right-hander had a 4.23 ERA.

Besides their ace, the Cardinals will use Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, who combined for 25 wins. After Kershaw, there’s Zack Greinke and possibly Hyun-Jin Ryu, who threw a 45-pitch simulated game, nearly four weeks after he left a game with a sore shoulder.

When Los Angeles has faced St. Louis in the postseason there has been some memorable moments on both sides. There were memorable home runs by Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith in 1985, Holliday’s misplay in 2009 and the 13-inning epic in Game One of last year’s NLCS.

This series figures to add to those memorable moments and considering how well Kershaw and Wainwright have pitched, perhaps there will be a magical moment in the opener a la Don Larsen or Roy Halladay.

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