ST. LOUIS -- Asked Friday if he recalled anything noteworthy about the two regular-season games he lost to the Cardinals this year, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw concluded his brief reply by saying, "No, not really."
Had anybody but Kershaw fielded the question, the proper answer would have been that it's remarkable when he loses at all.
If Kershaw isn't baseball's finest starting pitcher, he's no worse than second best. The left-hander topped the Major Leagues in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with a 6.5 figure, according to fangraphs.com. His 0.92 WHIP (average number of walks and hits per inning) also led the big leagues.
Moreover, Kershaw has excelled by more traditional standards, posting Major League-bests in ERA (2.60) and opponents' batting average (.211) since he made his big league debut with the Dodgers in 2008. His 1.83 ERA in 2013 was the lowest for a starter since Boston's Pedro Martinez checked in at 1.74 in 2000.
Los Angeles needs Kershaw to sustain his customary excellence in Saturday's Game 2 of the NL Championship Series at Busch Stadium (watch on TBS at 1 p.m. PT). The Dodgers dropped Friday's series opener, 3-2, in 13 innings, making a strong effort from Kershaw almost imperative if they're to avoid falling 2-0 behind the Cardinals in the series.
Tale of the Tape: Game 2
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 33 GS, 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 52 BB, 232 K||Overall: 9 GS (15 G), 4-1, 2.78 ERA, 19 BB, 65 K|
|Key stat: 0.92 WHIP led Majors in regular season||Key stat: 5 outs shy of no-hitter in last start|
|At Busch Stadium|
|2013: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00 ERA
Career: 6 GS, 2-3, 3.65 ERA
|2013: 6 GS (10 G), 2-1, 2.15 ERA
Career: 6 GS (10 G), 2-1, 2.15 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 2 GS, 0-2, 4.15 ERA
Career: 12 GS, 4-5, 3.75 ERA
|2013: Did not pitch
Career: Did not pitch
|Loves to face: Matt Carpenter, 2-for-12, 2K
Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 10-for-33, 1 HR
|Loves to face: Has not faced Dodgers
Hates to face: Has not faced Dodgers
|Why he'll win: Allowed just one earned run over two starts in NLDS||Why he'll win: Rookies gave Dodgers trouble in regular season|
|Pitcher beware: Has struggled against Cardinals||Pitcher beware: First career postseason start at home|
|Bottom line: Take the crowd out of the game early||Bottom line: Build on momentum from last outing|
"It feels great coming back to the ballpark and knowing you've got Clayton on the mound," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "We're going to do everything we can to earn the split."
Said Los Angeles second baseman Mark Ellis, "We want our best man out there tomorrow. It puts us in a good spot."
The Cardinals fully realize that confronting Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner, represents a formidable challenge.
Rookie right-hander Michael Wacha, St. Louis' Game 2 starter, repeated the bromide about pitchers not dwelling on their counterparts on the other team. Nevertheless, Wacha still said of Kershaw, "It's going to be unbelievable facing that guy."
"We know that he's one of the best in the league, and that usually brings the best out of some of your guys' competitors," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
So it's worth examining how the Cardinals beat Kershaw, who finished 16-9 and became the first pitcher to win three consecutive Major League ERA titles since Atlanta's Greg Maddux (1993-95).
Kershaw pitched capably on each occasion. He yielded four runs in seven innings in St. Louis' 5-3 triumph at Dodger Stadium on May 26. Of the seven hits Kershaw allowed, three were by shortstop Pete Kozma, who began a 4-for-4 performance by lashing a three-run double in the second inning for the game's biggest hit. Kozma, who hit .217 this year, finished with three doubles off Kershaw and Matt Guerrier. Los Angeles, which hadn't yet summoned the wondrous Yasiel Puig from the Minors, went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
A similar tale unfolded as Los Angeles fell, 5-1, at St. Louis on Aug. 6. Kershaw worked six innings and lapsed only in the fifth, when the Cardinals scored twice. Another Kozma double proved helpful, since it set up St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly's run-scoring groundout.
San Diego, which went 3-1 in four games against Kershaw, was the only other team to defeat the 25-year-old Texan more than once this year. Lifetime, Kershaw's 4-5 with a 3.75 ERA in 12 regular-season starts against the Cardinals, who are one of just two NL clubs to deal him a below-.500 career record. He's 1-4 against Philadelphia.
This will be Kershaw's fifth career postseason start. His first happened to be in 2009 against St. Louis, a Game 2 encounter in the Division Series. Kershaw surrendered two runs in 6 2/3 innings and received no decision in the Dodgers' 3-2 triumph.
This year, Kershaw pitched true to form in the Division Series against Atlanta, winning Game 1 while allowing three hits and striking out 12 in seven innings. Working on three days' rest, one fewer than usual, he yielded a pair of unearned runs and three hits in six innings to help the Dodgers advance to the NLCS with a 4-3 Game 4 victory on Monday.
Kershaw brusquely dismissed the fuss surrounding his resilience.
"You guys make a big deal about three days' rest," he told a room full of reporters before the NLCS opener. "I never made a big deal out of it. [Dodgers manager Don Mattingly] never made a big deal out of it. ... I mean, no offense, but I'm just kind of tired of it."
Still, Kershaw left open the possibility of repeating his Division Series deed.
"I'll pitch whenever Donnie wants me to pitch," he said, adding that working on short rest probably won't be necessary with Zack Greinke set to start Wednesday's Game 5, if necessary.
As for relieving, Kershaw addressed the issue differently in separate questions. Asked if he were willing to come out of the bullpen since J.P. Howell is Los Angeles' lone left-handed reliever on its NLCS roster, Kershaw said, "I'm pitching Game 2. I'll let you know after that one. It's too hard for me to think about anything more that."
But when discussing working on short rest, Kershaw said, "If [Mattingly] wants me to pitch in relief, whatever. I'll do whatever."
Kershaw offered sincere praise for the Cardinals, who have topped him in three straight starts.
"A great team. Just up and down the lineup," he said. "Everybody talks about the team approach that they have, kind of passing the baton to the next guy. They don't hit a lot of homers, but they just get big hits and that's kind of what they preach."
When Kershaw's on the mound, some might suggest that the Cardinals should mix in a few prayers with the preaching.