The problem is, the Dodgers won't have ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound as they had previously expected.
It was announced Saturday that Kershaw would be scratched from Sunday's start and could possibly miss the rest of the season because of lingering right hip pain. The timing couldn't be worse for the Dodgers, who -- despite losing seven of their last 10 games -- find themselves tied with St. Louis for the second Wild Card berth.
"Really right now you don't have time to brace yourself and it's really not a good thought," manager Don Mattingly said of losing Kershaw. "It's almost like any other time when you don't want to think about having to go through it without Kersh because you can always count on him saving your 'pen. He's going seven [innings] usually and it's pretty much the 'pen getting the day off and you know you are going to be in the game with a pretty good chance of winning. Other than all those factors, you just move on and you've got to get it done."
On Sunday, the Dodgers call on rookie Stephen Fife in Kershaw's place, as they look to win this pivotal four-game series.
Fife pitched well in three starts earlier this season, but hasn't seen Major League action since Aug. 1. In his three career starts, Fife is 0-1 with a 2.16 ERA, allowing four earned runs over 16 2/3 innings.
"He's pitched well," Mattingly said of the 25-year-old right-hander. "The times he has pitched, he's been good. He's hung in there and changed speeds."
While the Dodgers worry about their ace, the Cardinals aren't quite as worried about theirs as they were a week ago.
Despite picking up his third straight loss last Tuesday, Adam Wainwright (13-13, 4.01 ERA) allowed just two earned runs over six innings against the Padres. After missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery, Wainwright's recent struggles had sparked talk of possible fatigue starting to kick in.
The veteran right-hander has insisted that is not the problem, but instead cited his inconsistent arm slot during his delivery -- something he said he seems to have corrected in his last outing -- as the problem.
Wainwright is hoping his fixed mechanics will translate into positive results Sunday, as the Cardinals look to reclaim their Wild Card lead.
"We know we're in a good spot still with the extra Wild Card," said first baseman Allen Craig, who homered and drove in all three Cardinals runs in Saturday's 4-3 loss. "If we keep playing well, it's going to go down to the wire, and we feel like we're going to be right in it."
Cardinals: Carp nearing season debut
Chris Carpenter threw 95 pitches Saturday in a simulated game and could make his season debut this coming week.
Barring any setbacks with his right arm, the simulated game is expected to be Carpenter's last tune-up before joining yet another Cardinals playoff push. Manager Mike Matheny said an announcement will likely come Monday regarding when the right-hander will pitch next.
"All that we've seen so far through this process, as much as you want to concern yourself with caution and be cautious about what I'm going to feel [Sunday] when I wake up, I have no concern about what's going to happen," said Carpenter, who is still less than two months removed from undergoing thoracic outlet surgery. "I was really excited about the way I felt."
Dodgers: Kershaw could be lost for season
As if losing Kershaw for Sunday's crucial series finale isn't bad enough, it's possible the Dodgers' ace might not pitch again this season.
While the club takes off for Washington on Monday, Kershaw has a Tuesday appointment with Dr. Bryan Kelly in New York for a second opinion. Last year's NL Cy Young winner could be facing labral surgery, which is arthroscopic, but requires three to five months of rehab.
Even if Kershaw's bothersome hip doesn't require surgery, Mattingly said he will not send Kershaw to the mound if there's any chance of further damage.
"I promise you that," Mattingly said.
Wainwright is 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA in six starts against the Dodgers since the start of the 2008 season.
Matt Kemp is just 2-for-21 in his career against Wainwright. The .095 average is Kemp's lowest against any pitcher whom he's faced at least 20 times.
If Yadier Molina and David Freese each hit one more home run this season, the Cardinals will have five players with at least 20 homers for the first time in franchise history. Carlos Beltran (29), Matt Holliday (27) and Allen Craig (20) have already reached the mark. Freese and Molina have 19 homers apiece.