This weekend in St. Louis, the top two teams in the National League will do battle when the Dodgers take on the Cardinals.
You know, the same Cardinals team that has unceremoniously knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs the last two seasons.
Some of the faces have changed, but the bottom line remains: this is a nice test early in the season for the boys from LA.
Gone are Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, Shelby Miller, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez. They're either all hurt or on different teams. So while the names this year don't quite match up to the last couple of years, anytime the Dodgers get a chance to take on the Cards, it's a good test to see just how they measure up against one of the best the NL has to offer year after year.
The Dodgers are coming into this series on a bit of a roller coaster ride. They got swept three straight in San Francisco without scoring a single run. They followed that up with by taking two of three from the Padres and the Braves at home. Their offense finally woke up after a long hibernation, and Clayton Kershaw had his best start of the season in shutting down the Braves.
The Cardinals dropped three straight to the Mets (for one) and the Royals before winning the next four over the Royals (for one) and sweeping the Diamondbacks. They just got dealt a huge blow by losing Adams for a few months, if not the whole season. But these are the Cardinals, and they always find a way.
Want another reason why the Cardinals are the measuring stick? They're 18-5 at home. The Dodgers are quite dominant themselves at home at 21-7, but that obviously doesn't matter now. Their 7-11 road record does, which is something Don Mattingly has openly talked about needing to improve upon.
For these three games, the Dodgers will roll out Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, and Brett Anderson to the mound. That's right - Kershaw and Zack Greinke will merely be bystanders as they wait their turn in Coors Field. I can imagine those two are just thrilled about that. The Cardinals counter with John Lackey, Michael Wacha (undefeated at 7-0), and Carlos Martinez. Wainwright is gone, but that hasn't stopped them from leading all of baseball with a 3.08 starter's ERA.
In other words, the faces change, but the Cardinals' success stays the same.
It's way too early in the year to label this as "must-win," especially when the Dodgers have their former Cy Young winners watching from the dugout. They can get swept and still be seven games over .500 heading into June. So it's not like it'll be all doom and gloom.
But make no mistake about it, the Dodgers want to prove that they are the class of the NL after failing so miserably a week ago against the Giants. Another pounding on the road against a contender would make them look more like pretenders.
Let's see if the Dodgers can squeeze out a couple of wins with the back end of their rotation going, minus names like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy. Instead it'll be a couple of rookies and a veteran with a long injury history. And oh ya... no Kershaw or Greinke. Have I mentioned that before?
If the Dodgers can string together some hits, drive in runs in scoring position, and not suffer any bullpen meltdowns from their young arms, then this can be a great weekend for them.
If not, then it'll look like more of the same from the playoffs.