Getting away seems to have been a good thing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Having the St. Louis Cardinals on the schedule has certainly helped as well in recent times.
With their ace on the hill, the resurgent Dodgers shoot for a sixth consecutive victory and a ninth win in a row over the Cardinals when the two playoff contenders square off again tonight at Busch Stadium.
Los Angeles had been mired in major tailspin prior to its current upswing, losing four straight contests and 19 times in a 25-game span that preceded the streak. The club ended the drought with a home win over Philadelphia last Wednesday, then began its present 10-game road trip by downing the slumping New York Mets three consecutive times to get back on track.
The Dodgers kept up their success with a 5-3 decision over St. Louis in Monday's opener of this three-game set, giving the team eight straight victories over the Cardinals dating back to last season. It's Los Angeles' longest winning stretch against St. Louis since an eight-game run from 1975-76.
Extending that streak appears well within reach with Clayton Kershaw set to take the mound this evening. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner is in the midst of another strong campaign, having amassed a 2.74 earned run average along with a 7-5 record in 20 starts while striking out 132 batters, tied for second in the Senior Circuit at the moment.
Kershaw has been especially good since the All-Star break, tossing six innings of one-run ball to defeat San Diego on July 13 and limiting the Phillies to one run and five hits over eight frames in a no-decision on Wednesday. He struck out seven without issuing a walk that day.
The All-Star lefty also threw a six-hit shutout to best the Cardinals in Los Angeles back on May 19, improving his career record to 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA in nine starts against the defending world champions.
Los Angeles received some strong pitching as well on Monday, with Chad Billingsley delivering six solid innings in his return from the disabled list. The right-hander, who had missed two weeks with a sore elbow, yielded just one run on seven hits while striking out four to notch his first win since June 10.
"Chad was pretty good tonight and got out of trouble when he did get into some," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly afterward. "He was able to get some outs on the first batter and did a good job tonight."
Luis Cruz provided the offense for Los Angeles with a three-run homer off Cardinals rookie Joe Kelly in the second inning, with Mark Ellis' two-RBI double in the seventh extending the Dodgers' lead to 5-1.
St. Louis closed the gap with a two-run homer by Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the eighth, but Kenley Jansen retired the side in order in the ninth to record his 19th save of the season and halt St. Louis' three-game win streak.
The Cardinals will attempt to bounce back behind Adam Wainwright, who's lost both his starts since the All-Star break but pitched well in a losing cause last Wednesday in Milwaukee. The former 20-game winner was touched for four runs in seven innings against the Brewers, but only one was earned and he matched a season-best with nine strikeouts.
Prior to that result, Wainwright surrendered four runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 5-3 St. Louis setback at rival Cincinnati on July 13.
Wainwright owns a 3-3 mark with a 3.10 ERA in 10 career appearances against the Dodgers, seven of which were starts, and will be facing Los Angeles for the first time since 2010.
The Dodgers, who can match a season high for consecutive wins with a victory tonight, swept a three-game set from the Cardinals in Los Angeles from May 18-20.