ST. LOUIS — Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is considered the best starting pitcher in the National League.
Yet the St. Louis Cardinals were 2-0 against the left-hander during the regular season and will try to extend that string of good fortune when significantly more is on the line in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at 3:07 p.m. today.
"A great team," Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA), 25, said of the Cardinals. "Up and down the lineup. Everybody talks about the team approach that they have, and kind of passing the baton to the next guy.
"They don't hit a lot of homers, but they get big hits and that's kind of what they preach. I guess that's the challenge they pose."
The Cardinals defeated Kershaw 5-3 on May 26 in Los Angeles when they broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning on an RBI single by Matt Carpenter. Kershaw allowed four runs on seven hits in seven innings, walked three and struck out five.
St. Louis also beat Kershaw 5-1 on Aug. 6 at Busch Stadium, although only two of the runs came against Kershaw. The Cardinals scored the only runs they needed in the fifth on an RBI single by Tony Cruz and an infield out by pitcher Joe Kelly.
Kershaw permitted two runs on six hits in six innings, walked two and struck out five.
Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha will oppose Kershaw. If Wacha wasn't known nationally before the NL Division Series, he is now after throwing 7 1/3 hitless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Cardinals' 2-1 win in Game 4 on Monday in Pittsburgh.
Wacha (4-1, 2.78 ERA), 22, never has faced the Dodgers. Is that an advantage or disadvantage?
"I'm not real sure," he said. "I'd sometimes like to see a lineup a couple of times, then you know if they struggle against a certain pitch or not. ... It's a tough lineup, so you've got to go out there and execute pitches against them."
With video such a major part of game preparation, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said neither Wacha nor the Dodgers have the edge.
"They have lots of film. They have lots of scouts," Matheny said. "We have the same thing on our side. So we're taking all the information in that we can. A lot of it is going to be adjust on the fly when they get in the box for them and for us."
Wacha said facing Kershaw will be "unbelievable."
"As a pitcher, you try not to pay attention too much to who is pitching on the other side," he said. "Our job is to go out there and throw up zeroes as much as we can. I think that's going to be the main goal in this series."
View from Axford
Former Milwaukee closer John Axford has collected first-hand knowledge on why the Cardinals are so good every season.
"It's a historical and storied franchise," said Axford, who was acquired by the Cardinals on Aug. 30. "That's kind of ingrained in all the players as they're coming up through (the minors). From the other side, you always wonder how and why. It was always frustrating.
"Now that I'm here, getting to know these guys and getting to know their personalities, there seems to be something that's already instilled in them. They have this sense that they're playing for the Cardinals. They're playing for something bigger than themselves."
While the Cardinals roster remained the same as it was in the NL Division Series, the Dodgers tweaked theirs, opting to go with just one left-hander in their bullpen in J.P. Howell.
That left Paco Rodriguez out of the mix. Rodriguez was 3-4 with a 2.32 ERA in the regular season, but might have been squeezed off roster by a sluggish finish in which he was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last nine games.
Rodriguez also was ineffective in the NLDS against Atlanta, allowing two runs on four hits in 2/3 of an inning.
Howell isn't just a situational lefty. He held right-handed batters to a .222 average and lefties to a .164 mark.
"J.P. has grown, obviously, through the course of the season and into the postseason," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's handled both, and really Paco had until probably the last five weeks of the season, and we still feel like Paco's going to be a productive guy for us.
"But J.P. has handled them both and has been here before. He's a guy who we trust late in the game."
Erratic former closer Carlos Marmol was placed on the roster, as was Edinson Volquez.
"Carlos has got really good numbers," Mattingly said, referring to Marmol's 2.53 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 21 games and 21 1/3 innings. "We felt like his power was good for us --lefties and righties.
"I really don't want to badmouth my players that we didn't keep. We just felt like it's the best roster for us."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.