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Dodgers have pitching lined up how they need it

Starting Nolasco in Game 4 the right call to have Greinke, Kershaw rested @TracyRingolsby

LOS ANGELES -- OK, so Ricky Nolasco didn't pull off the miracle and pitch the Dodgers past St. Louis in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

So he only got through four innings in what became a 4-2 loss to the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.

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So the Dodgers find themselves down three games to one in the best-of-seven series, needing to beat the Cardinals in three consecutive games to be able to advance to the World Series.

So what.

Here's what's important.

After the Dodgers beat the Cardinals in Game 3 on Monday night, instead of panicking and trying to force the issue, manger Don Mattingly and his staff took a deep breath, evaluated their situation, and used logic to determine there was no sense to gamble by bringing Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw back on short rest.

They stuck with Nolasco, who had pitched only one inning in relief in the last three weeks. It didn't work out. But guess what? The Dodgers now have a well-rested Greinke for Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon, and if needed, a well-rested Kershaw for a Game 6 in St. Louis on Friday. And then, if there were to be a Game 7 on Saturday, it would be a well-rested Hyun-Jin Ryu.

And no matter what they did in aligning their rotation, the Dodgers had to have a win in a game started by Nolasco or Ryu to advance to the World Series. So they took the logical approach, making sure everyone at least was physically rested.

This isn't the NL Division Series, when the Dodgers took the gamble, brought Kershaw in Game 4, won it and advanced to the NLCS. That time, they had two games to win one to move along in the postseason. That time, they had the gamble on Kershaw, but they also knew that if Kershaw didn't finish off the series against Atlanta, they had the luxury of a well-rested Greinke for a Game 5.

This time, even if the Dodgers had gambled and brought back Greinke and Kershaw both on three days of rest and both of them had won, they would still have to go to St. Louis this weekend needing to win another game and having to use Nolasco and/or Ryu, depending on whether the NLCS got forced to seven games.

Do the Cardinals have an edge right now?

Dang right. They have three games out of which they have to find a way to win once to advance to the World Series. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have to win all three.

From a Dodgers' standpoint, however, at least they can look at the upcoming rotation and feel it is possible.

As Mattingly put it in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss: "My best thought is I've got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching [Wednesday], and if we come out here and play well and get a win, I've probably got the best pitcher in baseball pitching [Friday]. Ryu hasn't been too bad [either]. … That's all there is to it."

Greinke and Kershaw are definitely among the elite pitchers in the game, but as this NLCS has already shown, there are no guarantees. Remember, it was Greinke who started Game 1 in St. Louis, which the Cardinals won, 3-2, in 13 innings, and it was Kershaw who went the next day and took a 1-0 loss on an unearned run in Game 2. It was only the second time this season out of the 27 times that Greinke and Kershaw started back-to-back games that the Dodgers lost both games.

And even in the losses to the Dodgers, Greinke and Kershaw did their jobs. They combined to work 14 innings and give up two earned runs. And Ryu? Well, he helped pump life back into the Dodgers' hopes with seven scoreless innings in Monday's 3-0 victory at Dodger Stadium.

Rest assured, the Cardinals may be in command in this series, but they also are aware that the one victory they need to return to the World Series is going to be a challenge.

"We can't get ahead of ourselves," said Matt Holliday, whose tape-measure home run in the third gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead and snapped his NLCS 0-for-13 skid. "This team we are playing is way too good to think that for some reason it is not going to be a very tough task to get one more win.

"While you're excited about the [Tuesday] victory, we've got to turn the page for a day game [Wednesday] against an extremely rough pitcher and try to win that one."

If the Dodgers win that game, well, the Cardinals have an even rougher pitcher in the next.

Right now, however, the focus of both teams in on Wednesday. For the Dodgers, it's a matter of survival. For the Cardinals, it's a hope for celebration.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Ricky Nolasco