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Dodgers, Cards hook up
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L.A. Dodgers (54-45) at St. Louis Cardinals (54-44)

First pitch: Sunday, 8:00 p.m. ET Line and Total: Dodgers -165, Cardinals +155, Total 6.5

Two of the premier franchises in baseball right now, the Dodgers and Cardinals, square off in the conclusion of their three-game series on Sunday night.

The Dodgers came into the All-Star break winning six of 10 games to take a one-game lead in the NL West and securing the best record in the National League. The last series of their first half came at home against the Padres in which pitching dominated as they won 3-of-4 games. Los Angeles’ pitchers allowed just seven runs over the four contests and took each of the past two games by a score of 1-0. However, the Dodgers have lost each of the first two games to the Cardinals in this series, including Saturday's 4-2 defeat as a -150 favorite.

Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched a gem on Sunday (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 10 K’s) and was backed by the sole RBI from All-Star OF Yasiel Puig (.309 BA). Puig was hot in his previous nine games before the break, going 11-for-36 (.305) with eight of his nine hits going for extra bases while adding 6 RBI and eight runs. The Cardinals sit just one game back of the Brewers in the NL Central race after winning five of their final seven games, all against divisional opponents. They scored 17 runs in the first two games of their series against the Brewers most recently, but failed to complete a sweep, as they were blown out 11-2 in the series finale.

2B Kolten Wong (.242 BA) has found his power stroke recently, going 7-for-22 (.318) with four home runs and 7 RBI in his past six contests. Possibly the best pitcher in the game, 26-year-old LHP Clayton Kershaw (11-2, 1.78 ERA), will start this game for L.A. as he goes toe-to-toe with 22-year-old Redbirds RHP Carlos Martinez (2-4, 4.43 ERA). The Dodgers will actually be happy to start the second half on the road, as they are 29-19 (.604) in away games coming into this series while St. Louis is a solid 27-20 (.574) at home. The matchup between these two clubs has been a close one over the past three seasons with Los Angeles holding a 15-13 edge overall while going just 4-7 at Busch Stadium. The first time these teams met this year, it was in L.A. and the Dodgers were clearly the better club, winning 3-of-4 games and outscoring the Cardinals 17-4.

There is certainly an argument -- and a very easy one at that -- to make for Clayton Kershaw being the best pitcher in baseball. He has been to four straight All-Star games and is already a two-time Cy Young Award winner at just 26 years old, and has a great shot at winning a third award in 2014. He has started only 14 games so far this season due to injuries early in the year, but has made them count as he is striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings while showing impeccable control (1.2 BB/9) and allowing just five home runs in 96.1 innings of work (0.47 HR/9). A solo homer is the only run he has allowed in his past five starts (41 IP), and he is 8-0 with an 0.74 ERA, 0.61 WHIP and 11.8 K/9 in eight starts since June 1.

But Kershaw has been rather average against the Cardinals over his career, going 5-5 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, but allowing just two homers in 81.1 IP (13 starts). 3B Matt Carpenter (5-for-16, 1 double, 1 RBI) and OF Matt Holliday (9-for-33, 1 RBI, 10 walks) have had some success against the ace, while SS Jhonny Peralta is 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in the matchup. Coming into this series, the Dodgers bullpen has gone 7-16 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, while coming away with successful saves in 30-of-36 (83%) opportunities. Kenley Jansen (3.49 ERA, 27 saves) blew only three saves in the first half of the baseball season while striking out a solid 14.4 batters per nine innings and getting unlucky with batters hitting .391 BABIP.

Carlos Martinez has spent most of the season coming out of the bullpen, but injuries to some of the starters have forced St. Louis to plug him into the role he pitched in the minors and he has now started in his past six outings. As a starter, Martinez has gone 2-1 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.59 WHIP, while compiling a 29:14 K-to-BB ratio over 28.1 innings on the mound. He has not been able to give the bullpen much rest in his starts, going past the fifth inning just once, and was unable to reach that modest benchmark in his last outing, as he lasted only four innings while allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in a loss to Milwaukee.

Martinez has faced the Dodgers three times (2 starts) in his career, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, while striking out eight and walking six over 10 innings of work. He did pitch well against them earlier this year on June 27, but earned a no-decision after going 4.1 innings while giving up one run on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts.

Both OF Yasiel Puig and 2B Dee Gordon have been great against Martinez, combining to go 6-for-10, but OF Andre Ethier, OF Matt Kemp and 3B Juan Uribe are hitless in nine combined at-bats when facing him. The Cardinals’ relievers were solid in the first half of 2014, going 12-13 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, while saving 31-of-42 (74%) games. Trevor Rosenthal (3.50 ERA, 28 saves) has four blown saves on the year and has struck out 56 batters in 43.2 innings (11.5 K/9) while struggling mightily with his command (5.4 BB/9).

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