LOS ANGELES -- This did not seem like a fair fight, even though the other guys were the defending National League champions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the kind of talent that can leave you with that impression. They left an impression on the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers scored early and often against the 2013 NL pennant winners. And the Cardinals were not allowed any room for a comeback because Dodgers starter Zack Greinke was on top of his considerable game. The Dodgers were up, 7-0, after two innings. The final was 9-1. Yes, it was a Dodger Blue afternoon/early evening.
The Dodgers' recipe is standard, time-tested and entirely feasible. They will pitch well enough to win most of the time. They will be solid defensively. They will put together enough offense to win.
Coincidentally or not, the Dodgers have gone 15-7 since manager Don Mattingly called out his players for selfish play.
Whatever psychological, emotional or spiritual difference these comments may have made with the Dodgers, the club has indisputably played better defense since then. Saturday was the ninth straight game without an error for the Dodgers, their longest errorless streak of the season.
But the Dodgers' success starts with the pitching. In this game, that is the best way to begin.
"We've got the kind of pitching that keeps you in the game every day." Mattingly said. "If we can be solid on defense and take advantage of whatever we get offensively, we can be in pretty good shape.
"We've been solid [defensively]. Being in the right place, making the plays you're supposed to make, not hurting your team … getting the outs you're supposed to get.
"I'm happy with the energy the club is playing with. We're playing with a sense of urgency."
This is not a matter, Mattingly said, of putting together a long unbeaten streak, but of competing and succeeding on a day-to-day basis.
"We feel like we can be consistent, and go out and be steady," the manager said. "That's what I want. We're looking to be able to grind it out, where we're able to win two out of three, two out of three, two out of three, that type of thing, grinding it out. I'm not going to worry about winning 10 in a row, 12 in a row. Just get ready to play every day, win two out of three."
The Dodgers have won two out of three against the Cards this weekend. It's a four-game series, so any celebrations would be premature. This was the team that knocked them out of the postseason in 2013. But the Dodgers are playing well and their ace, Clayton Kershaw, is going Sunday.
Greinke had Saturday covered. He pitched seven innings, leaving only because they didn't need him to go further. Greinke gave up four hits, walked none, struck out 10.
Nobody expects to beat the Cardinals by eight runs. But you can expect Greinke to beat the Cards. He is 9-3 with a 2.95 ERA in his career starts against St. Louis. In Greinke's last six starts against the Cardinals including two postseason starts, he has been 5-0 with a 1.74 ERA.
Greinke was typically candid and modest in his explanation for this success.
"Usually, especially in St. Louis, they hit me really hard but somehow I get outs," he said. "At home, I pitch better and have games more like today. But in St. Louis, there's been three or four times when I was very lucky not to give up four or five or more runs."
Mattingly's explanation of Greinke's success against the Redbirds has a different sort of logic, but also works.
"He's pretty good against everybody," the manager said.
In this game, the Dodgers' big early lead did not substantially change Greinke's approach. He just kept throwing quality strikes.
"You've still got to pitch as good as you can," Greinke said, "but you know you have room for error, which is nice."
After two tense, taut, low-scoring pitchers' duels in this series, what nobody could have counted on was a one-sided romp.
"It's surprising any time you do that against those guys," Mattingly said. "You're expecting the games we've had the last couple of days."
This wasn't a pain-free day for the Dodgers. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez left after two innings with calf tightness. Utility man Justin Turner went out with a hamstring injury that, Mattingly said, will probably put Turner on the disabled list.
But the Dodgers still put on an all-purpose performance, functioning at full capacity in all facets of the game. This game was a reminder of how good this team can be, even against the best of opponents.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.