Let's get it on: Dodgers, Cardinals lift the lid on NLCS

(SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the most decorated teams in the history of baseball square off on Friday when the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers meet in Game 1 of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.

These teams are certainly no stranger to one another in the postseason, as the Cardinals beat Los Angeles in a 2004 Division Series and the 1985 NL Championship Series, both en route to World Series defeats.

The Dodgers, though, got the best of the Cardinals the last time these clubs met in October, sweeping them in the 2009 NLDS.

Combined, the two teams have accounted for 17 World Series titles. While the Cards last won in 2011, the Dodgers are trying to get back to that round for the first time since winning it all in 1988.

"It's going to be a blast," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "It's going to be fun. St. Louis and L.A. going at it. Obviously, they're a great team. ... It's going to be huge. It's going to be a lot of fun."

St. Louis finds itself back in the NLCS for the third straight year after a terrific regular season campaign that saw the club win an NL-best 97 games. The Cardinals, though, needed all five games to get past the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS.

After falling behind 2-1 in that set, the Cards rallied back to win the next two backed by a pair of tremendous pitching performances. After rookie Michael Wacha flirted with a no-hitter to win Game 4, ace Adam Wainwright put the hammer down in the decisive fifth game with a little help from another postseason hero.

David Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP, set the tone with a two-run home run, while Wainwright scattered eight singles and struck out six in a complete-game win.

"To pitch a game like that is one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt," Wainwright said. "These are the kind of moments starting pitchers live for."

Wainwright, who led the NL with 19 wins, won't be available until Game 3.

Instead, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny will turn to righty Joe Kelly, who didn't get a decision in the NLDS, but allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of a Game 3 loss.

Kelly, though, posted a 1.97 ERA after June 1, third among all major league pitchers, behind only Miami phenom Jose Fernandez (1.50) and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.82). He also reeled off eight consecutive winning decisions, the longest such streak of any Cardinals pitcher this season, and he had a scoreless streak of 19 2/3 innings at one point.

"My mindset was just come to the field ready every day, no matter what my job was that day," said Kelly. "Using me later in the game early in the year, and me being the long guy after that, you've got to come to the park mentally prepared to begin the game at any moment."

Carlos Beltran added to his postseason legacy by driving in six runs in the five-game set. Amazingly he only hit .222, but his .944 OPS in this series was his second lowest in a playoff series.

One of the top postseason performers of all time, Beltran hit his 16th postseason home run in Game 3 and surpassed Babe Ruth for the eighth-most in baseball history. Beltran's 1.247 OPS in the postseason is the highest in any player's career.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, found itself 9 1/2 games back in the NL West on June 22 and seemed to be close to firing manager Don Mattingly. However, the team rattled off 42 wins in 50 games and claimed its 12th division title since 1969.

The team stumbled down the stretch, though, and went just 12-15 in September. The poor play, though, didn't carry into the postseason, as the Dodgers took care of the Atlanta Braves in four games in the NLDS and are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2009.

Juan Uribe delivered the big hit for the Dodgers in the Game 4 clincher, as his two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth put them ahead for good and may have saved his manager from a whole world of trouble.

Mattingly left himself open to some criticism in that final game, as he opted to go back to left-hander Clayton Kershaw on short rest. Kershaw, who had never started a game on three days' rest, went six innings and allowed two unearned runs.

Kershaw will go in Game 2, as Mattingly will turn to another former Cy Young Award winner in Game 1 in 2009 AL winner Zack Greinke, who lost to the Braves, despite a solid outing that saw him surrender two runs and four hits in six innings.

Greinke was 15-4 this season and pitched to a 1.58 ERA over his final 12 regular season starts. He also won 12 of his final 14 decisions and was 7-0 with a 1.95 ERA over his last 10 starts on the road.

Los Angeles is led by the two horses atop their rotation, but their offense isn't too shabby either. They hit .333 as a team in the NLDS, including Hanley Ramirez (.500), Yasiel Puig (.471), Uribe (.375), Carl Crawford (.353) and Ellis (.333).

The Dodgers were 4-3 against the Cardinals this season, including three wins in four games in St. Louis. Not having homefield advantage for this series may not matter, as Los Angeles was tied with Texas for the best road record in the majors in 2013, at 45-36.