Critical with Crew in 2011, LA righty impressed by how well St. Louis adjusts
ST. LOUIS -- Zack Greinke was on his best behavior Thursday, which is to say the Dodgers right-hander got through the day before Game 1 of the National League Championship Series (Friday at 5:30 p.m. PT on TBS and Postseason.TV) without providing the Cardinals any bulletin-board material.
That was not the case in 2011, when Greinke pitched for the Brewers and created pre-NLCS waves with some mostly unprompted criticism of Cards ace Chris Carpenter. Famously incapable of telling a lie, Greinke said that many hitters viewed Carpenter's fiery mound presence as "a phony attitude."
"A lot of guys on our team don't like Carpenter," Greinke deadpanned.
The comments were so unexpectedly candid that even Business Insider found space for a juicy headline: "FIGHTIN' WORDS: A Brewers ace slams 'phony' Chris Carpenter before the NLCS."
This time, on a warm October afternoon at Busch Stadium, there were no fighting words.
"They're sort of just another team now," Greinke said. "But when you're playing in the same division, it's a lot more of a rival. I guess as soon as you switch organizations, the rivalry kind of ends, I guess. That's kind of how it feels in this instance, at least."
The Cardinals and Dodgers enter the NLCS harboring no particular ill will. The Dodgers won four of the teams' seven regular-season matchups, including three of four in a series at Busch Stadium in early August that began with Greinke outdueling Adam Wainwright in the opener.
The narrative was more charged when Greinke's Brewers met the division-rival Cardinals two years ago for a series that followed 18 tense regular-season matchups with dueling bean balls. Still, when Greinke sat on a podium at Miller Park and made his comments critical of Carpenter, then-Brewers closer John Axford -- he was traded to St. Louis in August -- remembers the reaction among Greinke's teammates going something like this:
Why even go there?
"Certainly, there was a feeling of that, but that's the way Zack is," Axford said on Thursday. "He's very up front with how he feels and what he thinks. I guess you get used to it with him -- it's endearing that he's as open as he is. He'll say anything right to your face."
Axford added: "If you've been around Zack, you know where he's coming from when he says those kinds of things."
Key stat: 5.56 ERA in four career postseason starts
Key stat: 2.28 ERA as a starter in regular season
At Busch Stadium
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA Career: 4 GS (5 G), 3-1, 2.28 ERA
2013: 8 GS (18 G), 5-4, 3.29 ERA Career: 18 GS (33 G), 8-7, 3.12 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA Career: 10 GS (12 G), 8-3, 3.10 ERA
2013: 1 GS (2 G), 1-0, 3.24 ERA Career:3 GS (4 G), 1-1, 3.72 ERA
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran, 1-for-7, 1 K Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 9-for-26, 2 HR
Loves to face: Mark Ellis, 0-for-7 Hates to face: Adrian Gonzalez, 4-for-7, 1 HR
Why he'll win: Led NL with .789 winning percentage in regular season
Why he'll win: Won 10 of past 12 decisions
Pitcher beware: Lost in St. Louis in 2011 postseason
Pitcher beware: Los Angeles averaged 6.5 runs per game in NLDS
Bottom line: Attack the strike zone, follow game plan
Bottom line: Don't let Dodgers' stars beat him
The Cardinals had not been around Greinke and did not appreciate hearing critical words about Carpenter. But two years later, Carpenter was nowhere to be found after the Cardinals took batting practice and the matter was deemed dead by another of the team's key contributors in 2011.
"When Greinke said it, it was like, 'OK, whatever,'" said closer Jason Motte, who, like Carpenter, is sidelined by injury. "My thing was, it's an opinion, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I know I've talked to people I now play with who were like, 'Man, when I played against you, I just wanted to smash baseballs off you, just because of the way you were on the mound.' ... When you're a competitor, you don't see the side of a guy that we see."
Many teammates say the same about Greinke, who has battled social anxiety. But the Brewers loved him after trading a slew of prospects to the Royals in December 2010, and the Dodgers have loved him since Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million contract last winter.
"He's straight up with everything," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "So it makes it a lot easier to deal with than another guy that kind of gives you an answer that he wants [it] to look a certain way or whatever. But Zack just tells you how he feels, so it makes it easy."
It was not a perfect transition. Greinke broke his collarbone brawling with the Padres in his second Dodgers start on April 11, and he returned about a month later to post a pedestrian 5.02 ERA in his first seven starts back.
But in his last 20 starts, beginning June 22 and including Greinke's six quality innings against the Braves in Game 2 of the NL Division Series, he is 12-3 with a 2.07 ERA, 116 strikeouts and only 31 walks. Only teammate Clayton Kershaw (who will start Game 2 on Saturday) and Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez were better over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
Greinke will pitch opposite the Cardinals' Joe Kelly in the teams' first NLCS matchup since 1985, when Greinke was just turning 2 years old in Orlando, Fla. He was lined up to pitch Game 5 of the NLDS against the Braves before the Dodgers won behind Kershaw in a fourth game.
In 10 career regular-season starts against St. Louis and two relief appearances, Greinke has a 3.10 ERA. But the Cardinals touched him for eight earned runs in two starts in that 2011 NLCS, including Greinke's loss in Game 5.
He expects a similar challenge on Friday night.
"Their lineup is so deep," Greinke said. "They have injuries, and then they bring up someone and it's like they don't miss anything even if it's a really important player for their team. They don't really give up any at-bats, so it's always a grind. Even when they bring the young guys up, it's like they make adjustments faster than other teams.
"I talked to [Mattingly] and [hitting coach Mark] McGwire about how they make adjustments so fast. I remember, [Cardinals center fielder Jon] Jay, there is a way to get him out early on, and then the next year you couldn't really do that anymore. It seems that their team does that better than every other team."