Cards confident thanks to past success vs. Kershaw
St. Louis has been able to get to Dodgers' ace unlike any other team in baseball
LOS ANGELES -- Without adding any context, Friday's Game 1 matchup between Clayton Kershaw and the Cardinals' offense would seem to skew heavily in favor of the Dodgers. There is the obvious with Kershaw -- he is the game's most dominant active pitcher, one who has won four straight National League ERA titles and should soon add a third NL Cy Young Award to his collection.
Producing sufficient run support off him seems an overwhelming task for the Cardinals, whose offensive struggles were masked only because of terrific pitching. Though they are a 90-win team, the Cards ranked 23rd in the Majors in runs scored (619) and 29th in home runs (105) this season.
But what seems a mismatch on paper may hardly be one, as the Cardinals actually have a track record of success (relative success, albeit) against the Dodgers lefty. Kershaw's 3.46 ERA in 14 regular-season starts against the Cards is his highest against any opposing NL team. That figure bumps to 3.69 when including Kershaw's three playoff starts against St. Louis.
So how have the Cardinals solved a pitcher that so many others haven't?
"I don't know if there is any reason," Matt Holliday said. "It probably comes down to how many mistakes he makes. If he leaves balls in the middle of the plate, we'll have a good chance of hitting the ball hard. We hope that it will find holes. And we hope that when we get runners on, you get a big hit."
Certainly, if the Cardinals want to provide their own starter, Adam Wainwright, with run support, they won't be able to miss the few hittable pitches that Kershaw may offer them. While the Cards pride themselves in grinding out at-bats in order to elevate pitch counts, they also know that Kershaw isn't one for early exits.
"A guy like him, pitch count isn't going to be an issue," Matt Carpenter said. "He's going to throw as many as he wants and he's going to be out there as long as he can. Odds are that he's not going to be at 100 pitches in the fifth inning, even if we do score a few runs. He's the kind of guy you don't want to be behind in the count against. He's going to come right at you, so you have to be aggressive and hunt a good pitch early in the count and put your best swing on it, because he's tough if he gets ahead of you."
Kershaw made two quality starts against the Cardinals this season, both ending in Dodgers wins. Last year, however, the Cards beat him in all four matchups, including twice in the NL Championship Series. Kershaw was outdueled by Michael Wacha in his first NLCS start. In Game 6, though, St. Louis knocked Kershaw around in a way few have in recent years.
They became the first team to bat around against Kershaw since 2009 and made him throw 48 pitches in a four-run third inning that eventually lifted the Cardinals to the win. It all started with an 11-pitch at-bat by Carpenter, who has been a table-setter for this Cards' lineup for the last two years.
Carpenter's ability to get on base will again be key for the Cardinals on Friday.
"It was a big situation for us and for Carp to go in there and take the kind of at-bat that we know he's capable of doing, especially against a tough lefty," manager Mike Matheny recalled. "It's great going up there watching one of our better hitters go up against one of the top [pitchers] in the league."
Though Matheny did not reveal his Game 1 lineup during the Cardinals' workout day on Thursday, he is expected to make some tweaks to try to better his club's chances against a pitcher who has lost just once since May. Right-handed hitters Pete Kozma (second base) and Randal Grichuk (right field) are likely to draw starting assignments against Kershaw.
Grichuk, a .297/.337/.627 hitter against lefties at Triple-A Memphis this year, will be a new matchup for Kershaw. Kozma has had some previous success against the lefty (4-for-8 with three doubles), though the sample size is small. The Cardinals could also consider subbing center fielder Peter Bourjos (4-for-11, one homer) in for Jon Jay (1-for-9) if they wanted their lineup to be as right-handed heavy as possible.
Even though the offense has had some past success against Kershaw, the Cardinals' biggest weapon might just be their own ace, who could help his club make due even with a little against the Dodgers lefty.
"I think you approach him with Adam Wainwright," Matheny said when asked about matching up with Kershaw. "That's what we do. That's what we counter with. We throw our best out there. I know he loves being able to be put in a position to rise to the occasion. We're excited to let him do his thing, and then hopefully our offense can put something together against a very good pitcher."