Dodgers vs. Cardinals: Keys to Game 5 of the NLCS

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Dodgers vs. Cardinals: Keys to Game 5 of the NLCS
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It'll be deja vu when the Los Angeles Dodgers head to St. Louis to face the Cardinals in Game 6 of the National League Championship series on Friday night.

Soon-to-be Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw will square off against Cardinals' young righty Michael Wacha in a rematch of Game 2. The Cardinals claimed that contest in St. Louis by a 1-0 margin and will return to Busch Stadium with a 3-2 series lead. They are just one victory away from the World Series.

Let's take a look at some of the key storylines for both teams going into Game 6.

 

Can Michael Wacha Stay Hot?

The 22-year-old has taken the baseball world by storm, emerging as a top-of-the-rotation arm down the stretch for St. Louis. Just more than 24 hours away from the biggest start of his life, he shared some thoughts on the Game 6 matchup, via the Cardinals' Twitter account:

Since taking over a spot in the rotation in September, Wacha has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He finished the year by going 2-1 with a 1.72 ERA in five starts, posting an impressive 1.02 WHIP and striking out 28 while walking 10 in 31 1/3 innings of work. He saved his best for last in the regular season, coming within two outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Washington Nationals on Sept. 24.

He has been even better in the postseason, allowing just one run in 14 innings of work. His 0.67 ERA is the third-best mark for starters in the playoffs behind Justin Verlander and Kershaw. MLB.com provided video of Wacha discussing his upcoming Game 6 start:

He started off the postseason by bringing a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in an elimination Game 4 of the NLDS, before tossing 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Dodgers in Game 2:

If you're a Cardinals fan, you have to feel confident about the team's chances to clinch with Wacha on the mound at home.

 

Expect Kershaw to Go Deeper into Game

Sure, it's true that the Cardinals defeated Kershaw in Game 2, but they didn't get a full dose of him. In a move that was questioned by some, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lifted Kershaw after just 72 pitches and six innings of work, in order to insert pinch-hitter Michael Young.

But from comments Kershaw made to the Associated Press, via Sports Illustrated, he didn't seem to mind, saying, "I always want to stay in the game, but I understand where Donnie's coming from. I get it."

Kershaw was his usual dominant self in Game 2, allowing just two hits and a walk. However, he was charged for the game's only run, although it was unearned:

The managerial move didn't pay off for Mattingly in Game 2—Young popped out to end the inning and stranded Nick Punto at third baseso don't expect him to pull a similar stunt again. Kershaw has been adamant about his desire to pitch as much as possible in the playoffs, and his teammates are eager to see him on the mound again in Game 6, via MLB.com:

He has performed fairly well against these Cardinals for his career, with Pete Kozma being the only guy who seems to have his number (4-for-7). In all, St. Louis' batters are hitting .255 lifetime against Kershaw, with Matt Holliday (10-for-45, .286 average) being the only regular with a mark better than .250 against him.

With the Dodgers' season on the line and Kershaw on five days' rest and coming off a 72-pitch performance, don't be surprised if he tops his personal high of 132 pitches on Friday.

 

Dodgers Lineup Faces Injury Questions

Two of the Dodgers' big batsHanley Ramirez (ribs) and Andre Ethier (ankle)have been dealing with injuries throughout the series. As of Thursday afternoon, Mattingly expected both of them to be in the starting lineup on Friday, per MLB.com's Ken Gurnick:

According to Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, Ramirez has been dealing with sharp pain due to a hairline fracture in his rib. Punto has been used as his defensive replacement in the seventh inning of each of the past two contests, when Ramirez has gone 0-for-6 with four strikeouts.

Still, from Mattingly's comments to Markazi, the skipper sounds confident that Ramirez will be able to contribute, saying, "Hanley, a lot like Andre, he's got to be able to feel like he can do something. Even though he hasn't gotten any hits, he's had a couple of swings that looked more like himself."

MLB.com also shared video of Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez discussing the team's mindset against Wacha:

Even if they aren't 100 percent, you have to figure Ramirez and Ethier are better options to face Wacha than backups Punto and Skip Schumaker, who went a combined 1-for-6 in Game 2. This will mark the second time that Los Angeles' lineup has ever faced Wacha, so it will be interesting to see who can make the adjustments to win.

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