Three keys for Dodgers vs. Cardinals in NLCS

Three keys for Dodgers vs. Cardinals in NLCS

Three keys for Dodgers vs. Cardinals in NLCS

ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers went 2-5 against the Braves during the regular season, then went 3-1 in the National League Division Series to send them home.

So what should we make of this NL Championship Series matchup for the Dodgers, who were 4-3 against the Cardinals this year, and 3-1 at Busch Stadium?

NLDS

On Thursday, manager Don Mattingly, with his club about as healthy as it's been all year, dismissed the notion that the Dodgers are confident because of their August success in St. Louis.

"I don't think that means anything at this point," he said. "Atlanta beat us at their place over the course of the season. The regular season is really out the window."

Check out who was tagged with two of the losses -- Clayton Kershaw. Game 1 starter Zack Greinke was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA.

The Dodgers insist Hyun-Jin Ryu is healthy, even though he hasn't pitched like it in his last two starts.

Health

When you have 25 disabled-list injuries during a season, health is always the big unknown.

The two players most vulnerable at this point are outfielder Andre Ethier, who couldn't start a game in the NL Division Series, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who hit .500 with six extra-base hits and six RBIs despite needing ice packs everywhere.

The Dodgers would love to put Ethier's left-handed bat in the lineup against the Cardinals' right-handed rotation, but showed they can win without him. Any injury to Ramirez, however, could be a death blow to their chances.

Ryu and Nolasco

Based on the first round, if not their careers, the Dodgers don't need to be too worried about Kershaw, who is starting Game 2, and Greinke.

But now required to win four of seven instead of three of five, they need either Ryu or Ricky Nolasco to step up with the kind of starts they delivered while the Dodgers were playing .800 ball.

Ryu had a three-inning start in Atlanta, after he sort of went through the motions for four innings in the final regular-season game. Nolasco slumped in his last three starts after two months of quality starts. Both will be pitching at home.

Ryu pitched seven scoreless innings against the Cards this year, while Nolasco was 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

Rodriguez and the bullpen

If the Dodgers submit a roster for this series much different than the one they used in Atlanta, it might focus on left-handers Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano.

Rodriguez was the primary lefty reliever for most of the season, but for the last 1 1/2 months, he's looked like the innings have taken their toll. Lefty J.P. Howell continues to pitch well and Rodriguez might be left off the roster.

Meanwhile, although Capuano rescued the Dodgers with three hitless innings against the Braves in relief of Ryu, he does not match up well with the right-handed power of the Cardinals. Carlos Marmol would be an alternative if either Rodriguez or Capuano are replaced for this series.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.