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Dodgers' 'pen a big factor going forward

Dodgers' 'pen a big factor

LOS ANGELES -- So much for all that talk about how starting pitching reigns in the best-of-five National League Division Series. The Dodgers would beg to differ.

As formidable a 1-2 punch as baseball touts right now, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright were assumed by many to march the Cardinals right on past Los Angeles and into the League Championship Series. Both enjoyed Cy Young-worthy seasons, with Carpenter leading the league in ERA and Wainwright in wins.

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The Dodgers, of course, ranked higher in the matchup of bullpens. The 3.14 ERA from its relievers this year was a Major League low and more than half a run lower than the Cardinals could tout. But the question was, could the Dodgers stay with the Cardinals long enough to where they could even take advantage of that strength?

Oh yes, they can.

"We don't think about the stats of a pitcher," Dodgers first baseman James Loney said after his club's 5-3 win on Wednesday. "Baseball is not played on paper. You go out there and compete, and we did that. He throws a lot of strikes, but we were able to play to our strengths -- hitting out pitches."

"Their bullpen shut us down," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Their bullpen really came and did a good job. I like the life of the club, not the way we competed, we just got beat by somebody who played better."

Indeed, in the span of just less than four hours, the Dodgers twisted the storyline from how the Cardinals will be led by their co-aces to how St. Louis needs a critical win from Wainwright to salvage one win in Chavez Ravine and potentially its postseason.

If you're a Cardinals fan, there is some good news to be had after Wednesday's 5-3 loss. Carpenter and Wainwright followed each other in the rotation 18 times this year. Only once did they lose successive games. That came when the Mets beat Carpenter on June 25 and the Twins did the same against Wainwright the following day.

Wainwright has made nine postseason appearances and has never allowed a run. However, he's never started a playoff game. He hasn't lost against the Dodgers this season, but then again, neither had Carpenter at the start of the series.

"I do know this team we're facing is a very dangerous team," Wainwright said. "I've had success against them because I went out and executed pitches. That's what I'm going to try to do [in Game 2]."

DODGERS' BULLPEN IN GAME 1
The Los Angeles relief corps turned in a stellar performance in a 5-3 win over St. Louis on Wednesday night..
Pitcher Innings Hits Runs K's
Jeff Weaver* 1 1/3 1 0 1
Ronald Belisario 1 0 0 0
Hong-Chih Kuo 1 2 0 2
George Sherrill 2/3 0 0 0
Jonathan Broxton** 1 1/3 2 1 2
Total 5 1/3 5 1 5
* Earned win ** Earned save

If you're the Dodgers, however, you have to be pleased with taking one game against one of the league's best and still having the opportunity to take another. Such a scenario would undoubtedly set up well for the Dodgers, even when the series shifts to St. Louis. The key is the Dodgers now know they won't board a flight to the Show-Me State in a deficit.

"[It] makes us feel we can beat any pitcher out there," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said of Wednesday's surprise success against Carpenter. "That's the mentality you're supposed to have as a team. We got another tough pitcher [on Thursday] and hopefully we can do the same thing, have the same approach and just have great at-bats and do everything all-around as a good team."

Not only that, but the Dodgers' bullpen showed why but the Dodgers' bullpen showed why it's been labeled baseball's best, and it did so on the biggest stage so far this season.

"That's our strength," manager Joe Torre said. "We get to the seventh inning, we feel pretty good about who we have coming in."

Needing to rescue a laboring Randy Wolf after just 3 2/3 innings, a combination of five Los Angeles relievers held a potentially potent St. Louis lineup to one run and just six baserunners in all.

"The most important things in these types of series are bullpens and two-out hits," reliever George Sherrill said. "Both starters really battled out there, but you could see it was going to be a battle of the bullpens around the third or fourth inning. I think they have a good one. But I think we have a better one."

The bullpen isn't the Dodgers' lone advantage, though. While it's all about who is starting for the Cardinals, it's not as much about who takes the mound first for Los Angeles as it is how he throws. The fact that the Dodgers are sending another lefty to the mound is reason enough for the Cardinals to be concerned. Frankly put, St. Louis can't hit southpaws.

They didn't take advantage of one on Wednesday, and the Cardinals ranked last in the league in batting average, last in slugging percentage and 14th in on-base percentage against lefties all year. With a matchup against lefty Clayton Kershaw looming, that's not necessarily to the Cardinals' advantage.

But at the same time, few expected the Dodgers to hit Carpenter as well as they did. So essentially, the only thing that's really been learned so far this series is that expectations aren't always fulfilled.

"This isn't the regular season," Cardinals third baseman Mark DeRosa said. "This is go time."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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