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NLCS: Cardinals rely on young aces

The SportsXchange

The St. Louis Cardinals hold home-field advantage for the National League Championship Series, but the Los Angeles Dodgers figure to have the pitching advantage, at least in the early games.

By virtue of wrapping up their NL Division Series win over the Atlanta Braves in four games, the Dodgers have their two aces lined up to pitch Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS. Zack Greinke will pitch the opener at St. Louis on Friday night, with Clayton Kershaw pitching the second game in Busch Stadium on Saturday.

"I think we feel like both guys are our number ones," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I think both of those guys make us feel good, and coming in here with a club like St. Louis and knowing that they've got, what kind of ballclub they have, to be able to come in here with those two guys, you feel like they're going to compete no matter where they're at. But in this environment, it's nice to have those two right on top."

The Cardinals needed the maximum five games to put away the pesky Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, with ace Adam Wainwright earning wins in Games 1 and 5. Coming off his complete-game performance Wednesday, Wainwright won't be ready to pitch again until Game 3 against the Dodgers. In the meantime, second-year right-hander Joe Kelly and rookie righty Michael Wacha will open the series.

Kelly didn't enter the Cardinals' rotation for good until July. Overall, he went 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA in 37 games (15 starts), then got a no-decision in his lone appearance in the NL Division Series. In Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kelly allowed three runs (two earned) in 5 1/3 innings.

"When he did get the opportunities, he made the most of them and continued to come in here regardless of what his role," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "These sort of things pay off in the long run, especially on a winning team. ... Joe just continued to push and work and show us that he's ready for an opportunity like this one."

Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner with the Kansas City Royals, enjoyed a solid 2013 season with the Dodgers, albeit in the shadow of teammate Clayton Kershaw. Greinke went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA. He lost his start in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, giving two runs over six innings in Game 2.

In the matchup of the teams' offenses, the Cardinals posted a better batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than the Dodgers this year.

The Dodgers' bullpen is deeper than the Cardinals', with late-season arrival Brian Wilson becoming a key setup man ahead of closer Kenley Jansen. St. Louis' relief corps took a hit when closer Edward Mujica pitched so poorly in September that he lost the ninth-inning role. In the Cardinals' lone save chance against the Pirates, Trevor Rosenthal saved a 2-1 win in Game 4.

Still, the Cardinals will have their rabid fan base backing them, potentially for four games.

"We love being at home, and we feel like we've got a sea of red behind us," Matheny said. "All in all, it comes down to execution, as to limiting the distractions and figuring out how to just do your piece and nothing more, nothing less. Regardless of odds, regardless of expectations, our guys have done that on a consistent basis, and I can see no reason why they won't continue."

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (all games on TBS)

Game 1, Friday, 8:37 p.m. ET -- Dodgers (Zack Greinke, regular season: 15-4, 2.63; postseason: 0-1, 3.00) at Cardinals (Joe Kelly, regular season: 10-5, 2.69; postseason: 0-0, 3.38)

Game 2, Saturday, 4:07 p.m. ET -- Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw, regular season: 16-9, 1.83; postseason: 1-0, 0.69) at Cardinals (Michael Wacha, regular season: 4-1, 2.78; postseason: 1-0, 1.23)

Game 3, Monday, 8:07 p.m. ET -- Cardinals (Adam Wainwright, regular season: 19-9, 2.94; postseason: 2-0, 1.13 ERA) at Dodgers (TBA)

Game 4, Tuesday, 8:07 p.m. ET -- Cardinals (TBA) at Dodgers (TBA)

Game 5, Wednesday, 4:07 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Cardinals at Dodgers

Game 6, Oct. 18, 8:37 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Dodgers at Cardinals

Game 7, Oct. 19, 8:37 p.m. ET (if necessary) -- Dodgers at Cardinals
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