LOS ANGELES -- St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright tied for the National League lead with 19 regular-season victories. Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw led the NL in ERA for the third year in a row. Kershaw's right-handed cohort, Zack Greinke, was fourth in the NL in ERA and tied for sixth in wins.
But while those three are among the game's pitching elite, reputation and resume isn't much help in the postseason. Greinke and Kershaw started Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS in St. Louis, and the Dodgers lost. Wainwright got the call for the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on Monday night, and, yep, the Cardinals lost.
The aces have been trumped.
The participants aren't.
Seems like there is something about facing the best that brings out the best on the other side.
Not with the hitters, mind you, but with the opposing pitchers.
It is not fair, after all, to point fingers at Kershaw, Greinke and Wainwright for the losses their teams suffered. Those three have combined to work 21 innings this series, and have allowed four earned runs.
"It's the great thing about the game of baseball that you can talk about what should happen, but it never does play out that way," said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. "That's why, to me, predictions are just opinions. You've got go play it out on the field."
And it's not just in the NL Championship Series. The five pitchers who have started for the team that has lost the first five LCS games this year -- two in the AL and three in the NL -- have combined to give up only six earned runs.
"We all know that pitching and defense wins," said Gonzalez. "Every pitcher that's been out there is an elite, top-of-the-line pitcher. We all know that in the playoffs, pitching dominates."
After Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha, who had a combined 25 big league starts during the regular season, took the mound in wins against Greinke and Kershaw, Wainwright got the call in Game 3 against the rookie Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was knocked out in the NL Division Series at Atlanta.
"It seems that when you're going up a legitimate ace guys get focused in," said Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier. "They get up for the challenge."
Guys, he said, as in opposing pitchers, not hitters.
"When you're winning 1-0 games, it is definitely not the offense that is carrying the load," said Ethier. "It's the pitching. I think it can bring the best out of the other team's starter, that challenge of facing a No. 1, of wanting to establish yourself."
No argument about it in this series. Kelly, Wacha and Ryu have combined to allow two runs in 19 2/3 innings, just enough to get their teams a victory in a series in which the Dodgers have outscored the Cardinals, 5-4 -- a nine-run total that is only one more run than the fewest ever scored in the first three games of a postseason series.
"It doesn't surprise me, because both teams have stayed within reach all the time," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "So any one pitch or one bad bounce or one bad play, you're in harm's way all of a sudden."
Wainwright was the victim of a two-run fifth on Monday night that began with Jon Jay misplaying Mark Ellis drive to left center into a leadoff double. Wainwright shut down the Dodgers in his six other innings, including stranding A.J. Ellis on third after a leadoff triple in the fifth. He wound up with his first lost in his seventh career post-season start.
In Game 1, Greinke gave up a single, walk and two-run double to Carlos Beltran in the third inning of what became a 3-2, 13-inning Cardinals victory, but allowed only two other singles in his eight innings. It was only the fourth game the Dodges have lost in the last 22 games Greinke has started, going back to his June 22 win at San Diego, which was the start of the Dodgers' resurgence to the NL West title.
Kershaw didn't even give up any earned runs in his Game 2 start, but he lost, 1-0, because after David Freeze led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double, he took third base on a passed ball against Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, and after Kershaw struck out Matt Adams, Jay flied deep enough to left field to bring Freese home.
"It's not surprising," said Ethier. "There is something about throwing against Kershaw that brings out the best in the other pitcher. It's why his record is the way it is."
Kershaw was 16-9 in 33 regular-season starts despite a 1.83 ERA. He allowed one run once and two runs twice in the five losses, giving up three runs and four runs in the other two. In the eight no-decisions he worked seven scoreless innings once, gave up one run four times, two runs twice and three runs the other time.
"We've see it all season against Clayton," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "Like Wacha [6 1/3 scoreless innings]. It's a challenge. Clayton has to go out there and face the challenge every fifth day. For the other guys, it's one time they have to get their 'A' game."
And so far, the others guys are getting the passing grades in the NLCS.