ST. LOUIS -- There will be playoff implications all around when the Los Angeles Dodgers travel to St. Louis for a four-game series starting Thursday, including thoughts of a potential preview for a one-game National League wild-card matchup.
Where that playoff game could potentially be played could be decided starting with Thursday's series opener, which will pit the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (7-5, 2.42 ERA) against the Cardinals' Austin Gomber (5-0, 2.93) in a battle of lefties.
The Cardinals won all three games between the teams in Los Angeles three weeks ago. One victory in this series would give the Cardinals a home game if they were tied with the Dodgers at the end of the season in the wild-card standings.
The Dodgers are two games behind the Cardinals, who currently hold the second wild-card position in the National League.
The Dodgers, though, remain intent on winning their sixth consecutive National League West title. By finally defeating the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday for the first time this season, the Dodgers temporarily moved one game behind the division-leading Colorado Rockies.
The Dodgers had some offensive flow in that game, scoring eight runs, but otherwise it has been a stop-start year for the bats. The Dodgers have scored eight or more runs 11 times since the All-Star break. But they scored have three runs or fewer 25 times in the same span.
"Our players have got to accept it because this is the way it's gotta be with our roster," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, according to the Orange County Register. "I know it's going to turn. We haven't had (offensive) consistency all year. September, we obviously have a deeper roster but we've had these same inconsistencies all year. So it's not about just September and this sample of September."
The Cardinals have found far more consistency in the second half as they went from near sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline to definite contenders barely over a month later.
When the Cardinals swept the Dodgers toward the tail end of August, they were playing at their best. They lost Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Pirates and have endured a three-game losing streak since their sweep of the Dodgers, but St. Louis has still won 23 of its last 33 games.
Not far away from being an afterthought in the NL Central, the Cardinals are still in striking distance of a division title, but still would have to leapfrog the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers to claim that prize.
Gomber has been a key contributor in the turnaround. He has solidified his spot in the rotation by going 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of August. He faced the Dodgers last month, giving up two runs over five innings in a no-decision while seeing his 15-inning scoreless streak come to an end.
Gomber is new to the league so this is his first charge toward the playoffs. But it is also new to the Cardinals' Marcell Ozuna, who was previously with the Miami Marlins.
"I've never been in that spot before," Ozuna said, according to mlb.com. "Every at-bat, I go trying to push my team on top."
Kershaw is far more familiar with the rigors of a second-half playoff drive. He will enter Thursday's start having not given up more than two earned runs in nine consecutive outings. Kershaw is 6-5 in 16 career starts against the Cardinals with a 2.99 ERA, but he has not faced St. Louis this season.