The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers are quite familiar with each other because of the last two postseasons, and they could be on course for another October showdown.
Michael Wacha is certainly ready.
''That's a long time away, but both teams are playing good baseball and you never know what will happen,'' Wacha said Thursday night after pitching the Cardinals past the Dodgers 7-1 in the opener of a four-game series between the National League's top two teams. ''There's definitely a good chance.''
The Cardinals, who knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, increased their NL Central lead to 6 1/2 games over idle Pittsburgh. The Dodgers' advantage in the West shrunk to 1 1/2 games over San Francisco.
Wacha (8-1) allowed a run and seven hits over seven innings without walking a batter, five days after the Dodgers beat him 5-1 at St. Louis in a game that was delayed more than 2 hours by rain. This was the right-hander's first road start against the Dodgers, whom he defeated twice in the 2013 NL championship series while shutting them out in 13 2-3 innings.
''I felt like I got the fastball and the cutter established on both sides of the plate, and I was just working off those pitches,'' Wacha said. ''I was attacking the hitters and throwing a lot of quality strikes.''
''He was spotting his fastball a little bit better than last time. But other than that, I didn't see anything different,'' Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said. ''It's not like we didn't hit him tonight. We just couldn't get anything going.''
Carlos Frias (4-3) was charged with five runs - three earned - and 10 hits through 6 2-3 innings in his rematch with Wacha.
St. Louis opened the scoring in the third with two unearned runs. Jhonny Peralta and Mark Reynolds had RBI singles after a two-out error by third baseman Justin Turner on Matt Carpenter's grounder in the hole and Matt Holliday's single.
The Cardinals increased the margin to 5-0 in the fifth on Holliday's sacrifice fly and Jason Heyward's two-out, two-run single.
''That's a tough pitcher that we were facing again today, but our guys were putting great at-bats together against him and getting the big hits whenever we needed them to,'' Wacha said. ''It was a lot of fun watching those guys go to work up there at the plate.''
The Dodgers loaded the bases in the sixth. Alex Guerrero hit a sacrifice fly, but Jimmy Rollins grounded out.
Los Angeles rookie Joc Pederson, who homered in his previous five games to give him 17 for the season, doubled in the third and was stranded when Grandal flied out. In the fifth, Pederson stranded two runners in scoring position when he took a called third strike.
''We were attacking him all day,'' Wacha said. ''We were staying pretty hard with him away and not giving him too much in the middle of the plate, because he'll make you pay for those kind of pitches. I ended up getting him with a backdoor cutter, and it was good to get out of there without any runs.''
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was cleared by the team's medical staff to pitch, a day after the altitude in Denver caused high blood pressure, a headache and an upset stomach. ... 2B Howie Kendrick was held out because of a sore knee, which he hurt sliding into third base Wednesday.
Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (5-2) hasn't allowed a run in his last three starts, spanning 20 1-3 innings. Last Sunday he held the Dodgers to one hit over seven innings and struck out eight in a 3-1 victory, following an emotional pregame tribute to his late teammate and best friend Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in October.
Dodgers: LHP Brett Anderson (2-3) goes into his rematch with Martinez 0-2 with a 3.28 ERA over his last four starts.
Link to box score: St. Louis (36-18) 7 at Dodgers (31-23) 1