Major League Baseball should be grinning from ear-to-ear for having two of the finest pitchers the National League has to offer squaring off this postseason. National League Cy Young Award and MVP candidate Clayton Kershaw used his left arm to power the Los Angeles Dodgers back to the playoffs with a remarkable regular season and was one of the hottest topics of discussion every time he took the mound. He won an MLB-best and career high-tying 21 games (21-3), led the majors with a 1.77 earned run average for a fourth straight year and held opposing hitters to a .196 average. Every five days Kershaw brought his A-game and the NL West-champion Dodgers need that to continue when they clash with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers in six games in last years NLCS, but lost to the Boston Red Sox in six games in the World Series. The Cardinals, winners of the Central Division, will roll out an ace of their own in Adam Wainwright. Wainwright won 20 games (20-9) for the second time in his career and was fifth with a 2.38 ERA over 227.0 innings pitched. Opponents batted .222 against Wainwright, who is making sure he handles his own business and is not focused on the matchup with Kershaw in Game One. Im only facing him maybe three times in the game, Wainwright said. Im facing those Dodgers hitters. I cant worry about what hes going to do or what his job is on the mound. I have to go out there and get outs. Thats what I have to do. Wainwright was the NLs Pitcher of the Month for September and the Cardinals went 17-9 in that stretch en route to a fourth straight postseason appearance and a second straight division crown. Manager Mike Matheny has been fortunate to have talent around him and always seems to have his players hungry when its crunch time. With a few hiccups in June and July, the Cardinals put it together over the final two months. Weve been playing (like its the) playoffs since August, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said on the teams website. We know what this is about and were ready for it. Matt Holliday, Matt Adams and newcomer Jhonny Peralta were the offensive leaders, while Molina and several others played at the steady pace this organization is used to. The Cardinals batted .253 as a team and compiled a .320 on-base percentage. Los Angeles has a more threatening lineup in this NLDS and was first in OBP (.333), third with a .265 batting average and sixth in runs scored (718). Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went through peaks and valleys with his lineup, but it finally came together for a second a straight division title. The Dodgers are in the postseason mix for the sixth time since 2004 and took advantage of San Franciscos struggles to reach the top of the NL West. The Dodgers dragged at times this summer and didnt get rolling until late July. The key was staying healthy and its a different story this October. Outfielder Matt Kemp is on fire heading into the postseason and is happy to participate after missing out on the events last fall. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez had his usual myriad of injuries, but is ready to go in a rematch with the Cardinals. Well, I think you have to look at it like were a healthier team, Mattingly said. Last year, we made the playoffs without Matt. Andre (Ethier) was basically, we were trying to nurse him into where he could play. He had that stress fracture and he was trying to play, and then Hanley (Ramirez) gets hit the first game, and its not the same. We went in a little beat up, and we lose Hanley, and thats three pretty big bats out of your lineup. Well, the big bats are back and Kemp is at the top. Recently named NL Player of the Month, Kemp completed the seasons final month with seven multi-hit performances and reached the 20-homer plateau for the fifth time in his career. He led the majors with nine home runs and tied teammate Adrian Gonzalez with 25 RBI, while also hitting .322 with a .347 OBP and a .700 slugging percentage. Awards are always nice, but for me, its bigger than that, Kemp said. You dont really play this game for awards. The awards are nice, and you get rewarded for things that youve done. But the main reward is health, and I think at the end, the award that everybody wants is a World Series. The Cardinals denied the Dodgers of achieving that goal around this time last year and even beat Kershaw twice. Kershaw went 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season for Los Angeles, which was 4-3 in the season series. LA won three of four at Dodger Stadium in late June. St. Louis and Los Angeles have met four times in the playoffs (1985, 2004, 2009, 2013) and the Dodgers won only one series, sweeping the Cards in three games in the 2009 Division Series. Below we take a look at three keys for each team to move on. ST. LOUIS 1. CARDINALS MUST PRODUCE AGAINST TOUGH PITCHING The Cardinals didnt produce astronomical numbers over a 162-game schedule and finished tied for 23rd in runs scored with 619. It didnt matter, though, because they were 32-23 in one-run games and won a franchise-best five games this season when registering four hits or fewer. St. Louis had 11 wins with five hits or fewer. St. Louis scored two runs or fewer seven times in the last 12 games of the regular season. It was outscored, 17-4, in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium from June 26-29, then had a 10-8 advantage in scoring during a three- game series at Busch Stadium from July 18-20. With a daunting task of facing Kershaw possibly twice and both Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, its important to get runners on base early because it will be difficult to do when these pitchers settle in. Adams can distribute the power with Peralta and Holliday, while Matt Carpenter leading off has a huge chore. Bringing in Peralta was a wise decision and he enjoyed one if his best years. The Cardinals rallied when Molina was lost for several weeks with a thumb issue and are glad to have him back working with the pitching staff. His offensive numbers may have dipped, but the Cards are right where they want to be. Maybe the postseason will wake up Molinas bat because he is quite familiar with playoff baseball and whats at stake. 2. ROTATION, BULLPEN SHOULD BE USED WISELY Matheny doesnt have to do much with Wainwright. Its the other choices with the pitching staff he has to be logical with. Wainwright has been resting nicely because he was scratched from Sundays start at Arizona after Pittsburgh lost to Cincinnati earlier in the day. The Pirates loss sealed the Central for the Cards. Wainwright has won his last five starts with a 1.38 ERA in that time and lost his only start against the Dodgers this season, charged with only a run and five hits in eight innings of a 1-0 loss on June 26 out west. In 14 career games (11 starts) against LA, Wainwright is 4-5 with a 2.90 ERA. He has made seven career appearances, six of which have been starts, against the Dodgers and is only 1-3 with a 4.30 ERA. The playoffs are a time for the best players to shine and the Cardinals are counting on Wainwright to give them a series advantage even if Kershaw was the best in the Senior Circuit. The one better known as Waino is riding a 21-innings scoreless streak. The Cardinals have Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA), Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74 ERA), John Lackey (3-3, 4.30 ERA) and Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.20 ERA) available to pitch this series and perhaps one or two of them will come out of the bullpen. Lackey was acquired from Boston before the non-waiver trade deadline and showed flashes of brilliance in his time with the Cards. He does have plenty of playoff experience. Justin Masterson was another arm St. Louis acquired during the summer and the former Indian will most likely be used in relief. Matheny will try to avoid taxing his bullpen and aims to get the most out of his starters. who are good for at least six to seven innings per start. Relievers Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal and Pat Neshek all appeared in more than 70 games, with Rosenthal posting a career-high 45 saves. The 45 saves were fourth in the majors for Rosenthal, who gives the Cards a great chance of winning when he throws. St. Louis posted an MLB-leading 23 shutouts this season. 3. CARDS HAVE TO GET IT TOGETHER ON THE ROAD St. Louis went 39-42 away from Busch Stadium and have to find a way to win at least once on the west coast. The Cardinals played 10 road series following All-Star festivities and won just three of them, taking two of three from the Chicago Cubs, three of four against the Milwaukee Brewers and two of three meetings with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Theres no doubt Chavez Ravine is a tough place to play, especially during the playoffs. Dodgers management shelled out a lot of dough for what they have on the field and the club is expected to win in front of the home crowd. But the Cardinals know that in order to move on to another NLCS they have to find the resources to win on the road. LOS ANGELES 1. DODGERS HAVE MUSCLES TO FLEX IN LINEUP First, theres Kemp, then Yasiel Puig and Ramirez. Dont forget about Gonzalez, too, in the Dodgers vaunted lineup that cannot afford to go through a lull this postseason and rely just on Kershaw or any other arm. The Dodgers hammered St. Louis pitching in a four-game series earlier this summer and enter the playoffs on a roll. They went 17-8 in September and ripped off five straight wins to close the regular season. Los Angeles scored four or more runs 20 times last month and led the majors in OBP for the first time since the club re-located from Brooklyn. Because of Kemp, Puig, Ramirez and Gonzalez, the Dodgers were on fire in September and ranked among the best in runs scored, hits, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Puig went through some struggles at the plate this season and Mattingly handled the situation well. Gonzalez led the club in home runs (27) and the majors in RBI (116), and is one of LAs biggest acquisitions the past few years. We re-energized the franchise with major trades and went hard on free agents, knowing it had a chance to rejuvenate the group and get us back to a good competitive spot, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. Knowing that player development needs to be the lifeblood of your organization, we were going to try to do two things at the same time -- win and develop. Other key contributors are the speedy Dee Gordon, who has been cleared to play after a hip injury and led the majors in stolen bases (64), triples (12) and infield hits (62), Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe and Scott Van Slyke. 2. AFTER KERSHAW AND GREINKE, THERE ARE CHOICES TO BE MADE Everybody knows how awesome Kershaws season was. The Dodgers are counting on that to continue for the next few weeks from Kershaw. The lefty struck out 239 batters and has reached the 200-K mark in each of the last five years. Kershaw knows he let the Dodgers down in last years postseason. Greinke will follow Kershaw in Game Two and went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA. The 17 wins were a career high for Greinke, who enters the postseason 5-0 in his last eight trips to the mound and a 10-2 mark at home. He has faced St. Louis 14 times (12 starts) in his career and is 9-4 with a 3.17 ERA. Greinke went 1-1 in two starts against the Cardinals this season. Ive faced them a bunch and I know theyre really good, but I havent seen them the past two months, Greinke said. I know theyve been swinging the bats since the All-Star break really well. The lineup is dangerous. You would expect Ryu would get the nod for Game Three, but he only appeared in two games last month because of a balky shoulder. He threw a simulated game on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium and is LAs best option after Kershaw and Greinke. Ryu, who also missed time with a glute strain, went 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA in his second Major League season. Starters Dan Haren and Roberto Hernandez will most likely work out of the bullpen for the Dodgers relief staff that featured five players with more than 60 appearances. Closer Kenley Jansen posted 44 saves in a team high-tying 68 games. J.P. Howell also pitched in 68 games. Brandon League, Jamey Wright and Brian Wilson were the other 60-game contributors. 3. STAY OUT OF THE TRAINERS ROOM The Dodgers were hobbled like James Caan in Misery last postseason and now are hoping a full deck will lead them to revenge over the Cardinals. Kemps back swinging for the fences, Gordons hip is healthy for the top of the order and Ethier doesnt have a balky leg to nurse. And as long as Ramirez doesnt get hit by a pitch like he did last postseason and continued contributions from Crawford and others, the Dodgers will be playing deep into October. I dont know about preparation, but were better, Gonzalez said. Kemps in the lineup, Carls in, weve got our whole outfield healthy, weve got Hanley healthy. We basically have our whole team healthy, and it looks like well be able to pitch. I think going into it healthy is a big factor. Darron Lee Super Bowl Jersey
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. -- The taxing preseason, which included two games in China, is finally over.One day after Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed during a game, the hockey community spoke up about the incident and were relieved that Peverley is in stable condition. "Thank God hes OK," Stars forward Tyler Seguin said as his club prepared to face the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night. "Hockeys just a game at that point. It really puts things in perspective." The incident occurred with 13:37 remaining in the first period of Mondays contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Peverley was transported to hospital after being attended to for several minutes, and the Stars later issued a statement saying that he was conscious and his condition was not life-threatening. "Hes doing good. Hes stable, hes in good spirits," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said on Tuesday. "A few guys said hes interacted and said hes got his sense of humour back and ready. Hes in good medical care and the story we get to tell is a real good one. Thats the part I like." On Tuesday, Stars general manager Jim Nill said in a statement that Peverley is in stable condition and has been communicating with teammates and friends since he was admitted into hospital. Nill said doctors are focused on finding a long-term solution to Peverleys irregular heartbeat. The condition was diagnosed in training camp, and he underwent a procedure that sidelined him for the preseason and the season opener. "Its a big relief. We were pretty scared there. Once we found out that he was good and stable, it was a very big relief," Stars captain Jamie Benn said. "Hes in good hands. Its something you never want to see. Obviously Rich is a big part of this team. Were obviously a family in here and we never want to see someone go down like that." The Stars game against the Blue Jackets was postponed after Peverley went down. "Its scary when you see something like that happen," Senators captain Jason Spezza said. "Its very scary when you see a guy collapse like that; Im sure those guys that were involved in the incident are pretty shaken up and everyone wishes him thee best and hopefully he recovers well.dddddddddddd "When you see things like that happen, it puts things into perspective for everybody and their families." Senators forward Clarke MacArthur added "When something like that happens its like time stands still. I was just waiting by the TV hoping to hear the best news possible. Thank God for the trainers and the guys who took care of him. Hes got a wife and a family and its a scary situation." Blue Jackets centre Brandon Dubinsky said Tuesday that he and his teammates are coming to grips with what they witnessed. "Obviously being part of a traumatic incident like that is never easy, but hopefully the fact he is doing well will allow us to get ready for an important game," Dubinsky said. Blue Jackets forward Nathan Horton added: "I was sick to my stomach wondering if hes OK." The situation on the bench brought back memories of when Detroit defenceman Jiri Fischer went into cardiac arrest during a game against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 21, 2005. Fischer, now the Red Wings director of player development, subsequently retired due to heart problems. "It affects everybody," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I know how rattled our guys were. Its way different than hockey and obviously way more important than hockey." Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who was an assistant coach in Detroit when Fischers emergency happened, added, "When I got home last night I got to see it again on the news and its a terrible thing to have happened; having been there for one previous event, its scary. Its really scary to see something like that happen. You dont expect that from professional athletes with the highest fitness level. It gives you a bad feeling in your stomach." Meanwhile in Montreal, Canadiens forward Brandon Prust said Peverley has the support of the entire NHL. "I think everyone in the league is thinking about him and praying for him," Prust said. "Its always really sad to see, it kind of breaks your heart." ' ' '