By Jon Weisman
Seven months ago, the Dodgers suffered their most frustrating playoff defeat of the decade, losing three games to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series that Los Angeles either led or was tied in going into the seventh inning.
As I write this, the Dodgers are in the air on their way to St. Louis, returning to the scene of the crime, you might say. Beginning Friday, Los Angeles will play seven of its next 10 games against the team that vanquished them.
The memory of October is not a closed wound. At the same time, win or lose, this weekend’s series against the Cardinals feels like something of another limb.
Don’t get me wrong: These games are not exhibitions. For one thing, the NL West-leading Dodgers are trying to the team by the bay at bay. San Francisco, which in April was as much as six games out (which really isn’t that much), is now within a game of the Dodgers, pending what happens tonight against Atlanta and former Cardinal pitcher Shelby Miller.
For another, it would be hard to say there isn’t any emotion when St. Louis is involved. Not only have the Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers in the past two postseasons, but at 31-16, they are the only team in the league with a better record than the 28-18 Dodgers. Since 2011, the Cardinals are 306-227 and the Dodgers are 300-232.
The Cardinals are the barometer, and they bring the barometric pressure.
Having said all that …
- Clayton Kershaw isn’t pitching in St. Louis this weekend. His next turn in the rotation is Monday in Colorado.
- Series-winning home run hitter Matt Adams isn’t playing in St. Louis this weekend. He’s out for at least three months, if not the entire season, with a severe right quadriceps strain.
- Zack Greinke isn’t pitching in St. Louis this weekend. His next turn in the rotation is Tuesday in Colorado.
- NLDS Game 1 starter Adam Wainright is out for the season with a torn Achilles.
- Hyun-Jin Ryu isn’t pitching in St. Louis this weekend. His next turn in the rotation is in 2016.
- Yasiel Puig, the conversational centerpiece of the Dodger offense last October, remains on the disabled list.
- Michael Wacha, the 2013 NLDS star, is pitching Saturday — not against Kershaw, but instead Carlos Frias.
- Carl Crawford, whose RBI double gave the Dodgers their initial lead of the 2014 NLDS, remains on the disabled list.
- Hanley Ramirez is with Boston, Matt Kemp is with San Diego, Dee Gordon is with Miami, Juan Uribe is with Atlanta, Scott Elbert is with El Paso, Brian Wilson is … somewhere.
- It is, after all, only May. Not October.
When Friday’s game begins, no more than two players from the starting lineup of NLDS Game 1 will be on the field for the Dodgers: A.J. Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez. By Sunday, assuming Yasmani Grandal is activated from the seven-day concussion disabled list, Gonzalez will be the only one.
Most Dodger fans will justifiably have a chip on their shoulder heading into St. Louis, and winning there will be as sweet as losing is sour. But this is a bit like seeing a Broadway show in previews. The performances matter if you’re watching, but the reviews don’t really count.
(But: Kershaw and Greinke at home against the Cardinals on June 6-7? Sign me up.)