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NLCS Game 1 preview: Dodgers at Cardinals

Zack Greinke, DodgersZack Greinke, then a Brewer, was roughed up by the Cardinals in the NLCS two years ago. (Robert Beck/SI)

Dodgers at Cardinals

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: TBS

Starting pitchers: Zack Greinke (0-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. Joe Kelly (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

If the Dodgers win every game in this series started by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, neither of whom will be opposed by Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, Los Angeles will claim the pennant in six games. Not everything goes according to plan, however.

Greinke's postseason record to this point is short of encouraging. His Game 2 outing in the Division Series against the Braves was his first quality start in four postseason appearances, but also his second loss thanks to the excellent, and already largely forgotten, work of Braves lefty Mike Minor. Greinke's only postseason win came in a game in which he gave up six runs. That was one of two starts that Greinke made against the Cardinals in the 2011 National League Championship Series, when he was a member of the Brewers. Greinke allowed 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings in those two starts (though three runs were unearned) and 15 runs in 16 2/3 innings during that postseason overall. As a result, his Game 2 start against Atlanta only lowered his postseason ERA to 5.56.

The 2011 NLCS isn't quite ancient history. The St. Louis hitters who did the most damage against Greinke in that series, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, will be in the lineup against him in Friday night's Game 1. In addition, Holliday, Molina, David Freese, another member of that 2011 team, and Matt Carpenter have hit a combined .342/.388/.507 against Greinke in 80 career plate appearances.

Having said that, Greinke held the Cardinals to two runs over 6 1/3 innings in his only start against them this season, which also came at Busch Stadium. That was the second in a still-active streak of 13 straight starts in which he has allowed no more than two runs, all but one of them lasting at least six innings (the exception was his penultimate start of the regular season from which he was removed after five innings and 72 pitches to ease his workload in advance of the playoffs).

Joe Kelly, meanwhile, has gone 9-2 with a 2.39 ERA in 15 starts for St. Louis this season, though only one of those lasted longer than 6 1/3 innings. In Game 3 of the Division Series against the Pirates, Kelly gave up three runs (one unearned) in 5 1/3 innings and got a no-decision in the Cardinals' loss. That was the 25-year-old's first postseason start, but his eighth postseason game as he was a valuable righthanded reliever for the Cards last October. Kelly faced the Dodgers twice during the 2013 regular season, getting hit hard in relief in May and turning in a stingy-but-short start against them in August (5 1/3 IP, 1 R).

Among the Dodgers' hitters, keep an eye on Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in this game. Both are lefties and have good career numbers against Kelly, and Crawford finished the Division Series with three home runs in two games. There's a chance that Andre Ethier could start this game as well and give Los Angeles an upgrade on its third lefty bat, which would otherwise be Skip Schumaker, but Ethier hasn't had as much success against Kelly in the past as Crawford and Gonzalez.

Given all of the above, St. Louis will hope to push a couple of runs across on Greinke, keep things close with five or six innings of Kelly and then hand a slim lead or a tie to its young and talented bullpen. The Dodgers, of course, are looking for Greinke to assert himself in a big way in the postseason and live up to his standing as the team's 1A behind Kershaw.

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