10/11/09 12:00 PM ET
After sweep, Dodgers reload rotation
Kershaw, Padilla hold fort while Kuroda prepares return
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
A National League Division Series sweep, accomplished on the strength of dominant starting pitching, no less, outfitted the Dodgers' long-range October prospects with some exclamation points.
Recall that a few days ago, Los Angeles was getting sympathy. The Dodgers were heading into the Division Series against not only the Cardinals' top two starters, but also the National League's top two.
And their answers for Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright? Their No. 4 starter and then their ... what, No. 5 1/2?
Then Clayton Kershaw stepped up in Game 2, and Vicente Padilla even stepped over him in Saturday's 5-1 victory in Game 3 over the Cardinals.
"Vicente gave us more than what we asked of him," right fielder Andre Ethier said of the pride of Nicaragua after Game 3.
Two days earlier, in Game 2, Kershaw had "grown up, and then some," Los Angeles pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.
Between them, Kershaw and Padilla threw fastballs and breaking pitches at, and a blanket over, the Cardinals.
They combined to hold St. Louis to three runs in 13 2/3 innings, which is a big reason the Dodgers' own modest offense (eight runs) sufficed to win both games.
Now, the Dodgers can look forward to re-enlisting arguably two of their top starters -- and their top two postseason starters, a fact that can't be argued.
Chad Billingsley, who was ready to go in a Game 4 if needed, instead will turn his attention to the NL Championship Series against either Colorado or Philadelphia.
A late-season spinout prompted manager Joe Torre to demote Billingsley in his Division Series rotation, but the fact remains he was the Dodgers' top winner, and he finished the regular-season schedule in encouraging fashion.
"I was fortunate that my last two starts were better than the previous 10, or whatever it was," said Billingsley, who in those final two combined to pitch three-hit ball in 12 innings.
Then, Hiroki Kuroda, who wasn't even on the active Division Series roster due to a bulging disk in his neck, appears ready for the NLCS.
"We don't yet know about him," said Honeycutt, but he added of Kuroda's side work on Friday, "The signs sure were good."
When the Dodgers won a total of four times in the 2008 postseason, a Division Series sweep of the Cubs followed by a five-game loss in the NLCS to the Phillies, Billingsley and Kuroda combined for three of the wins.
So Torre -- with rested postseason veteran Jon Garland also on the back-burner -- could be back to his original "problem," fitting six starters into a four-man rotation.
Matchups might enter into his decisions. If the Dodgers' next foe is Philadelphia, Kershaw is a given. The young left-hander would not be spared against a lineup including lefty-hitting triggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
His Game 2 performance could have elevated Kershaw to untouchable status anyway.
In general manager Ned Colletti's view, the 21-year-old had an easier time going toe-to-toe with 19-game winner Wainwright than he would have had ordering the ale for which is Busch Stadium named.
"Like he said," Colletti recalled, "they don't ask how old you are when they hand you the ball."
Some felt the Division Series had turned early, when Carpenter wasn't himself in Game 1. Truthfully, however, opposite him Randy Wolf had been similarly wobbly (lasting only 3 2/3 innings, enough to allow six hits and five walks).
Thus the true fulcrum was Kershaw's Game 2 performance, which placed the Dodgers on the downhill Padilla completed.
"I've said from day one, I'll put up our starters against anyone," third baseman Casey Blake said. "Whenever we've had a big game, they've come through."
"I guess we're just stubborn," Wolf said. "We don't know when we're supposed to lose. Kershaw is just a guy who can dominate. And the story all season has been how we [the starting pitchers] pick each other up."
The Division Series was a big-time pickup. The arms who had started 97 of the Dodgers' regular-season games were not a factor.
And, still, the Dodgers now ride a five-game winning streak. They hadn't won five straight since the days immediately following the mid-July All-Star Game. The last time they'd reeled off five in row prior to that was in the days before Manny Ramirez's early-May suspension for a violation of the drug policy.
And now Billingsley (33 starts) and Kuroda (20) can join the pursuit of the ultimate prize.