"At the end of the day, we're the defending National League champions, so someone is going to have to take that belt from us," Matt Carpenter said. "That's how we're going to approach it. If it doesn't happen again, it's because somebody will come and take it from us, not because we're not ready to go."
The Dodgers will be seeking payback after the Cardinals kept them from a trip to the World Series a year ago. In a series that lasted six games and featured a rookie Michael Wacha as series MVP, the Cardinals clinched the NL pennant by twice defeating Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers left-hander will be arguably their most formidable obstacle again this October, and this time in a shortened series. Kershaw, who is on his way to a third Cy Young Award, won both of his starts against the Cardinals this season, allowing three runs on 11 hits and three walks over 14 innings. He struck out 21.
With Kershaw starting Game 1 for the Dodgers, he'll be matched up against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who might well finish second behind Kershaw in the Cy Young voting for the second consecutive year. The two would also be lined up to go head-to-head in a potential win-or-go-home Game 5.
"I'm only facing him maybe three times in the game," Wainwright said, downplaying a pitching matchup that will include loads of buildup. "I'm facing those Dodgers hitters. I can't worry about what he's going to do or what his job is on the mound. I have to go out there and get outs. That's what I have to do."
The Cardinals and Dodgers have met in the postseason four times previously. That includes NLCS matchups in 1985 and 2013, both of which the Cardinals won in six games. The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers, three games to one, in an NLDS meeting in 2004. The only time the Dodgers finished ahead was in 2009, when they swept the Cardinals out of the NLDS.
"We've been playing [like it's the] playoffs since August," Cards catcher Yadier Molina said. "We know what this is about and we're ready for it."
This year, the Dodgers won four of the seven games played between the two teams. That included three of four at Dodger Stadium during a late-June series in which they held the Cardinals to four runs in the series. The Cardinals were shut out twice.
The Cardinals hosted the Dodgers in late July and won two of three games. Two of those games were decided by one-run. The other was a two-run victory.
"It's a great organization," Wainwright said. "They're like us. They put a great product on the field, and they want to win. It's going to be a great matchup."
The Dodgers earned home-field advantage in the series by virtue of having a better record. It means the Cardinals, who finished 39-42 on the road this season, will have to win at least once at Dodger Stadium for the chance to advance to the NLCS for the ninth time in 15 seasons.
Los Angeles is expected to start Kershaw and Zack Greinke in Games 1 and 2, likely against Wainwright and Lance Lynn, though the Cardinals have not confirmed their rotation plans beyond Game 1. The Dodgers then hope to get Hyun-Jin Ryu back for Game 3. Ryu has been sidelined this month with a left shoulder injury. The Cardinals have Shelby Miller, John Lackey and Wacha available to start games later in the series.