The reasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ recent retooling are plentiful. 

For starters, they wanted a better overall team, from the bullpen to the offense to the defense to the bench. A better clubhouse atmosphere, one possibly more conducive to long-term winning, was another goal. Some financial flexibility going forward, even for a team with a record payroll, was also an advantage, as was clearing some of the old regime’s personnel for a front office increasingly trying to put its stamp on the entire roster.

So far, through 46 games, the Dodgers seem to have accomplished what they were after. For the most part.

But all the organization’s shuffling—front office and uniformed employees—was to accomplish one primary goal when history is written: win a World Series. Immediately.

Over the last two seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals have been the team stopping the Dodgers from doing so. Because of that, recent history is more important and hindering than traditional baseball beliefs for some players.

“I dream about them every day,” Dodgers superstar right fielder Yasiel Puig told reporters about the Cardinals during the offseason. “If we can beat them, we can win the World Series. We have to pass through them. They’re our principal rivals, not San Francisco, not anyone else.”

That quote obviously made headlines, especially with the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers’ traditional rivals, winning their third World Series in the last five seasons last year. But Puig made a valid point.

While the Giants have championships, the Cardinals are the class of the league. They have made the postseason four straight seasons, knocking out the Dodgers in the last two. They’ve won two titles since 2006 thanks to a strong core of homegrown players and key trade and free-agent acquisitions.

They also go into their weekend series against the Dodgers with the best record in the majors, once again looking like the Senior Circuit’s team to beat.

“We can’t let them beat us three straight times. No way,” Puig continued, understanding the Dodgers led three postseasons games after six innings last fall but still lost to the Cardinals in four. “They’re a good team, and we all admire them. They have very good pitchers, very good players. If we beat them, we can win the World Series. We just have to get through them.”

The Dodgers’ remake, which included trading Matt Kemp (second in the majors in weighted runs created plus in the second half last season) and Dee Gordon (an All-Star second baseman), has them running well.

They go into the series tied for baseball’s third-best record, second in the NL. Their offense leads the league or is in the top five of several offensive categories. They have a starter vying to start the All-Star Game, and it’s not Clayton Kershaw. Their once-brutal bullpen, almost totally redone in the offseason, is arguably the best in the majors. Joc Pederson, the man who replaced Kemp in the outfield, is a strong front-runner for Rookie of the Year. 

“We have depth now,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We didn’t have that before. One guy gets hurt and the next guy is tearing down the door behind him. A guy gets hurt and someone else steps up.”

The Dodgers still might not be good enough to beat the Cardinals in another October fight. Despite their depth, they are a battered club with outfielders Puig and Carl Crawford on the disabled list with no timetable for their return and starters Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy out for the season. St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright is also lost for the year.

That is why they produce pitching matchups for their weekend in St. Louis that casual fans will not recognize.

What should have been a strength—the rotation—is now a significant concern for the Dodgers, and not because Clayton Kershaw has a 3.86 ERA. He actually leads the majors with a 2.13 expected FIP and is ninth in Fangraphs WAR despite an ERA that dipped under 4.00 just this past week.

While fill-in starter Mike Bolsinger has been impressive in four starts (0.71 ERA), the Dodgers’ new, normally tight-lipped front office has made no secret it is in the market for starting pitching.

“We’re actively vetting the market, doing everything we can to augment our depth,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “Acquiring starting pitching depth is my No. 1 priority.”

The problem is virtually every team with a desirable asset still sees itself one hot two-week stretch away from contention, if it are even currently out of it. And now with Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto dealing with shoulder and elbow issues, respectively, teams like the Dodgers have to wait to see how they recover.

Another problem with acquiring a front-line kind of arm is it might very well cost the Dodgers an elite prospect, and that is something the front office has been unwilling to pay. Even if it is willing to listen to counter offers, players like Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias are essentially untouchable.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, it is likely they will need another strong starting pitcher to stick behind Kershaw and Zack Greinke if they plan to upend the Cardinals, or anyone else, in a postseason series. Ryu was that guy, and a healthy and effective McCarthy was the backup plan.

How the Dodgers fare this weekend in St. Louis will not determine if they are capable of beating their “principal rivals” when it counts most. How their roster looks come the first week of October will.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on