The two teams battled it out in the series opener on Thursday, with the Cardinals ultimately prevailing with a 2-1 win to gain a two-game advantage over the Dodgers as the clubs vie for a chance to play the Wild Card-leading Braves in a one-game playoff into the National League Division Series.
"It's a great opportunity for us, that's all," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "From here on out, there can't be any more important games. To me, I hear these guys talking and in meetings, it's almost a playoff atmosphere in here because every game means that much. The intensity is there."
The reeling Dodgers are in desperate need of some positive momentum as they continue to slip from postseason contention, having lost seven of their last eight games.
"If you're asking me to explain it, I'm having trouble with that one myself trying to put it in words or reasons why," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You can come up with all kinds of theories why, maybe times are hard, they haven't been together enough, whatever that is, we're pressing."
Friday's matchup will feature a showdown between the Cardinals' Joe Kelly and the Dodgers' Chris Capuano. Capuano's solid pitching as of late has been a source of optimism for the Dodgers, with Capuano combining for five earned runs in 12 innings in his last two starts.
Kelly, on the other hand, has narrowed his focus on his sinker as he looks to build on his strong rookie season so far, and the Anaheim native expects at least 150 family and friends in his return to Southern California.
"It's going to be fun," Kelly said. "I'm just going to go out there and be the same. I'm going to throw the same here as I would in, say, Milwaukee, though it will probably feel a little different to me. There will be some excitement. I'll just go out there control my energy and try not to put any more pressure on myself."
Dodgers: Mattingly reaches out for answers
The Dodgers' recent slide has come at an inopportune time with the postseason rapidly approaching, and Mattingley has done his fair share of searching for answers.
Mattingley has sought the advice of well-known people connected to the Dodgers, including former manager Joe Torre team president Stan Kasten and co-owner Magic Johnson.
"You want to get people that have been through it and not be a hard head and think you know everything," said Mattingly. "I've been around the game a little bit and been through a lot of different things and heard guys talk. I just want to get counsel."
Cardinals: Freese gets time off
David Freese was held out of the Cardinals' starting lineup on Thursday, with Matheny describing Freese to be "a little worn down" as he continues to recover from a left ankle injury from last Saturday.
Keeping Freese out of the lineup was aided by the Cardinals' desire to find more time for Matt Carpenter. After starting right field on Wednesday, Carpenter got the start at third base.
"We'll always have that as a nice available option," Matheny said. "We'll kind of read it day by day. [Carpenter] continues to impress us, and the guys see how much he means to us when he's in there. He's made the most of his opportunities."
In his lone start against the Cardinals this season, Capuano allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings. In 16 career appearances against the Cardinals, Capuano is 5-6 with a 5.70.