The last time the Dodgers and Cardinals squared off, they were each fighting for a World Series berth. Now, in their current late-June series, there isn't quite as much on the line, but both teams have plenty to play for.
After Thursday's 1-0 win, the Dodgers are two games out of first place in the National League West, and the Cardinals are 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central.
"They're a tough club. Their team plays good baseball, and they have good players," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "The main thing is pitching, they seem to continually bring up good pitching. Power arms. One piece leaves, and they bring another up, and he fits right in. Obviously, they're doing something right."
One of those pieces is Friday starter Carlos Martinez (1-3, 4.33 ERA). Martinez has spent most of the year in the bullpen, but after the Cardinals placed Michael Wacha on the 15-day disabled list on June 22 with a right shoulder injury, manager Mike Matheny moved him into the rotation. Friday will be Martinez's third start this season.
"Obviously, it starts with pitching with them, and then I think it goes right to [catcher Yadier Molina]," Mattingly said. "He knows what he wants to do back there. Pitchers seem to have confidence in him."
Molina has had plenty of success against the Dodgers, not just behind the plate, but standing at it, too. In 49 career regular-season games against them, Molina is hitting .322 with a .808 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
In three at-bats against the Dodgers' Friday starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Molina is 1-for-3.
Ryu has been pitching well lately, going 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA in seven starts since May 21. But he's only faced the Cardinals one time in the regular season -- a seven-inning win against them on Aug. 8, 2013.
"I think everything's working for him. This guy can pitch," Mattingly said. "It's every time out. He locates. He's coming up with a cutter now. He's got a little slider he's working on. This guy's getting more pitches. Last year, he's pretty much two pitches. Now, he's starting to add pitches to his repertoire. He's a handful. That guy can really pitch."
Dodgers: Club faces old teammate Ellis
Former Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis is making his first appearance back in Los Angeles since signing with the Cardinals as a free agent in December.
The 37-year-old veteran hit .264 in 236 games for the Dodgers over the course of two years but is slumping this season, hitting .197 in limited playing time.
Ellis started against on Thursday in the first game of the four-game series, going 0-for-3.
"Mark Ellis is just a quality person," Mattingly said. "You can't have enough character on your ball club, and I think he brought a lot of that to our club and consistency. He's just kind of that guy you don't worry about, you know how he's going to play."
Cardinals: Matheny shares story on Martinez
Martinez is making his third start of the season on Friday, but Matheny said the 22-year-old pitcher was nervous when he asked his manager if he would be a starter last season.
"I remember we stood out in left field last year and his English wasn't as good even a year ago," Matheny said. "He asked me what he has to do to get a chance to start.
"I believe his agent was in town, so I believe that had something to do with the conversation. And I did ask him if that was his question or his agent's, and he looked at me like I was some kind of prophet, so that answered my question for me."
Martinez has spent nearly all of his time with the Cardinals as a reliever, appearing in 53 total games with Friday being only his fourth career start.
"I know that's his desire as well," Matheny said. "He's been a great addition to our staff no matter where we put him."
• The Dodgers have won the regular-season series over the Cardinals each year since 2011.
• The Dodgers have gained 7 1/2 games on the first-place Giants since being 9 1/2 back on June 8.
Adam Lichtenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.