With yet another stellar season from Clayton Kershaw, Wainwright could finish as the runner-up for a second straight season, with the Reds' Johnny Cueto also in the running for second place.
On Friday, however, the slate will be cleared. When Wainwright and Kershaw take the mound at Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the NL Division Series at 5:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1, all the ERAs, awards and past success will fall by the wayside.
"I pay no mind to what happened in the regular season," Wainwright said. "Obviously, Clayton had an amazing regular season, and now we go to the postseason and it's anybody's ballgame. This is one game for the rest of your lives every day. So we'll take that mindset and be ready."
As great as Wainwright was this season, Kershaw was even better. He eclipsed the Cardinals' ace in nearly every major pitching category, posting a 21-3 record and a 1.77 ERA.
When Cardinals manager Mike Matheny named Wainwright as the NL's starter in the All-Star Game, the narrative that followed was focused more on why Kershaw wasn't chosen than why Wainwright deserved the nod.
"I think that while [Wainwright] recognizes Clayton's excellence and dominance, I think he does feel like sometimes he maybe doesn't get what he deserves as far as recognition goes," said Cards outfielder Matt Holliday. "He's won 20 games again, had a [2.38] ERA. He was the leader of our pitching staff -- every time we needed a big game, he gave it to us. ... If you're looking to build a team around a kind of person and a pitcher, he'd be at the top of my list."
The Cardinals' ace does have his work cut out for him. Wainwright will face a dangerous Los Angeles lineup with what will likely be very little margin for error if Kershaw's outstanding regular season continues into October. And the Dodgers have won all but one of Kershaw's 21 starts since the beginning of June.
"This year, going into the season, I told myself from the very beginning that I was going to pay no mind to any outside distractions," Wainwright said. "I wasn't going to think about if hitters had prior success against me, I wasn't going to get caught up in matchups, media hype and fan hype and all that. I was just going to focus on making pitches, and that's what I plan on doing tomorrow."
Wainwright does own a better record and ERA against the Dodgers (5-5, 2.90 ERA) than Kershaw does against St. Louis (4-5, 3.46). The two aces didn't pitch head to head in last year's NL Championship Series, but they have matched up twice in the regular season in 2009 and '10, and once in the '09 NLDS. Los Angeles won two of the three contests.
"He's such a good competitor," Kershaw said. "I think that's the first thing that really comes to my mind when I think about him. ... It should be a fun day tomorrow. We both love to compete, and I know he can hit a little bit, so I got to be ready for that."
Wainwright enters the postseason on a high note. He won each of his five starts in September, allowing just six earned runs in 39 innings, with four of those runs coming in one game.
Of the two Game 1 starters, Wainwright also boasts the better track record in the playoffs. He's 4-3 with four saves and a 2.53 ERA in 18 games (nine starts) in October, compared with Kershaw's 1-3 record and 4.23 ERA in nine games (six starts).
"He's been just the epitome of what an ace should be and how you go about your preparation and how you lead by example," Matheny said of Wainwright.
"He thrives on those big-stage opportunities, and that's exactly where he'll be tomorrow."