ST. LOUIS — If you don’t recognize the Dodgers who show up at Busch Stadium this week, it’s understandable.
They hardly resemble the team that lost two of three to the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium in late May. Those Dodgers were mired in last place and their manager, Don Mattingly, was dealing with questions about his job security.
Yasiel Puig still was in the minors, Hanley Ramirez was on the disabled list and Matt Kemp wasn’t. Clayton Kershaw was the only starter the Cardinals faced then who will pitch in this four-game series.
One Dodger with local ties, outfielder Scott Van Slyke, was on the roster in May but won’t be this week. Van Slyke (son of former Cardinal outfielder Andy) was sent back to Class AAA on Sunday for the third time in the past month.
The Dodgers you will see this week long ago moved out of last place. They have gone an NL-best 41-21 since they last faced St. Louis and taken a 5 1/2-game lead in the NL West. Their 3.09 ERA is the NL’s best during that stretch, and their offense has scored the third-most runs, behind the Cardinals and Braves.
Winners of 14 straight on the road, L.A. comes to St. Louis three victories shy of tying the NL record for consecutive road wins. And they have their top two starters, Zack Greinke and Kershaw, scheduled for the first two games. Greinke will oppose Adam Wainwright on Monday, while Joe Kelly will start against Kershaw on Tuesday.
Greinke had been planning to go Sunday at Wrigley Field, but the Dodgers decided to save him for the Cardinals, a move that also means Chris Capuano won’t pitch in St. Louis. Capuano is 0-4 with a 7.90 ERA in six career outings at Busch Stadium.
While Puig deservingly has been given much of the credit for the Dodgers’ turnaround, Ramirez has been just as important. Since his June 3 debut, Puig has hit .376 with 11 homers, 40 runs and 25 RBIs in 53 games. In the same stretch, Ramirez has hit .356 with 10 homers, 35 runs and 36 RBIs.
Neither player, however, will be 100 percent for the Cardinals. Both, in fact, could be out of the lineup for Monday’s 6:05 p.m. opener. Puig bruised his left thumb Saturday and sat out Sunday, though Mattingly expects to have him back soon.
Ramirez, who scored the only run in L.A.’s victory Sunday, had to leave the game when he injured his right shoulder while catching a foul pop and falling into the third-base seats. He was scheduled for an MRI on Monday, leaving him questionable not only for Monday, but the entire series.
The Dodgers also will be without Kemp, who returned to the disabled list for the third time this season after spraining his left ankle July 21. Though he would be eligible to return Tuesday, the Dodgers have said his injury is more serious than first believed and Kemp remains out indefinitely.
The Cardinals have gone 33-28 since the series in Los Angeles, and enter this 10-game homestand looking for some offensive consistency. They scored only 10 runs in losing their first seven games of the just-completed trip, then erupted for 44 while winning three of the final four.
The Cardinals enter the week 1 1/2 games behind the Pirates in the NL Central but with a favorable schedule ahead. Thirty-two of the Cardinals’ remaining 52 games will be played at Busch Stadium.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.