ST. LOUIS -- The pitching matchup for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series looks, to the uninitiated, to be distinctly one-sided.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw -- only 25, but already a full-fledged star -- going for them. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2011, and he appears to have the inside track on a second Cy this season, with a 1.83 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.
It would appear that almost anybody coming up against Kershaw on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on TBS would be seriously mismatched, particularly in the case of a mound opponent who is just 22 and has made only nine regular-season starts in the Major Leagues.
But if you have seen Michael Wacha's recent work, you would not be making the mistake of underestimating him in any way. In his last regular-season start, against Washington, Wacha pitched a no-hitter for 8 2/3 innings before giving up an infield hit. He encored with 7 1/3 one-hit innings in Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Pirates. This was an even more impressive performance, given that the Cardinals went into this start trailing 2-1 in the series and were on the road.
So in his last two starts Wacha has allowed two hits over 16 innings. In Pittsburgh, he also had more than 40,000 people chanting his surname at him, in the belief that he would become unnerved. Far from being intimidated, Wacha enjoyed the chanting and even managed to flip it over to his own advantage.
"I just tried to use that," Wacha said with a smile. "I kind of like it. It kind of gives me adrenaline. I kind of used it in my favor."
"Why he's been able to be successful so far is that he has trusted himself," Cards manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha. "He's trusted the game plan that's put in front of him. He's trusted his catcher. He's trusted his stuff. Then it comes down to taking the distractions and minimizing them."
The Game 1 pitching matchup in this series was also supposed to favor the Dodgers, with Zack Greinke, another former Cy Young Award winner, going up against another young pitcher, Joe Kelly, who had just begun to make an impact in the St. Louis rotation in the second half of the 2013 season. But Kelly held his own against Greinke, and the game eventually turned into a battle of the bullpens, with the Cardinals winning, 3-2, in 13 innings.
Now, with the Cards winning the opener, the pressure may be greater upon Kershaw. A 2-0 deficit might appear to be even worse than usual, because even while the series will move to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday (8 p.m. ET on TBS), that pitching matchup will be Hyun-Jin Ryu for the Dodgers against Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals.
Wainwright, the acknowledged ace and leader of the St. Louis staff, was superb in two starts against Pittsburgh in the NLDS, winning two starts and compiling a 1.13 ERA.
But before we get that far down the road, there will be Game 2. This may be an autumn pitching classic, with Kershaw, arguably the best starter in baseball this season, against Wacha, the best starter in baseball over the last two starts.
The Dodgers will need something very much like Kershaw's best, while the Cards will be looking for another victory that would look like an upset to many, but would feel to this team -- so reliant on outstanding, young pitching -- like another day at the office.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.