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Key questions: Dodgers-Cardinals

Now this is a championship series. It features the two teams with the most pennants in the history of the National League, two division winners in 2013, two teams that at certain points this year were each the best team in the game. These are two teams with stars galore, young and old.

These two teams also have a playoff history: 2009, 2004 and 1985, the latter of which gave us the Jack Clark home run and the Ozzie Smith home run from the left side.

Dodgers and Cardinals. Go crazy folks, go crazy.

Here are five questions to consider before this series starts Friday:

How good is Clayton Kershaw?

He is the best pitcher in the game. His 1.83 ERA this year was the lowest by any ERA qualifier since Pedro Martinez in 2000 and the lowest by an NL pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1995. Only Sandy Koufax had an ERA that low among Dodgers pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920).

Clayton Kershaw Kershaw

Then there is this postseason. In Game 1 against Atlanta in the NLDS, he struck out 12 batters and tied a postseason record by striking out six batters in a row. As soon as Game 1 ended, "Clayton started barking about pitching Game 4," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He told me, 'All that [extra] work I do is for a game like this. That is my game.' "

Pitching on short rest for the first time in his career, Kershaw threw six innings, gave up three hits and no earned runs, helping the Dodgers beat the Braves 4-3.

"That's why he is the best in the game," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.

When asked if he could go on three days' rest again, Kershaw said, "Of course, these are the playoffs. Whatever it takes."

Kershaw will start Game 2 on full rest. Zack Greinke will start Game 1. Not a bad alternative. As Mattingly said, "We have two aces."

Should there be concern about the Cardinals' offense?

The Cardinals scored the most runs in the league (77 more than the second-place Rockies) during the regular season and hit a historically high .330 with runners in scoring position. But in the LDS, they batted .192, scored 15 runs in five games and hit .185 with runners in scoring position.

Allen Craig Craig

They clearly missed first baseman Allen Craig, who did not play because of a foot injury, and was again left off the LCS roster. He hit .454 this year with runners in scoring position.

The Cardinals also have to get leadoff man Matt Carpenter straightened out. After hitting .318 with 199 hits in the regular season, he went 1-for-19 in the LDS. The Cardinals go as he goes at the top. They were 29-42 this year when he did not score a run.

How hot is Hanley Ramirez?

He had six extra-base hits in the first three games of the LDS, four doubles, a triple and a home run -- and every one of them was smoked.

Hanley Ramirez Ramirez

"He's one of the best hitters in the game," Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford said. "He had a great year."

Indeed, Ramirez batted .345 and slugged .638, which would have led the league had he qualified for the batting title. He is swinging the bat like 2009 when he won the batting title for the Marlins, when "his swing path was exactly the same on every swing," said Dan Uggla, a former teammate.

Ramirez is not 100 percent because of a lingering back issue, but it hasn't affected his swing. Offensively, he mostly carried the Dodgers past the Braves.

"I told him, 'I want the whole world to see how good you are,' " Mattingly said.

How much will it hurt that Adam Wainwright won't start until Game 3?

Adam Wainwright Wainwright

That's a blow, for sure. Wainwright is that good, and that important to this team. But the Cardinals seem to be able to overcome almost anything. Michael Wacha started Game 4 so Wainwright didn't have to go on short rest, then threw 7 1/3 no-hit innings -- the longest a rookie has ever taken a no-hitter in a postseason game.

"That kid can beat anyone right now," said one scout who saw Wacha's gem against the Pirates in Game 4. "I don't care how young he is."

All these young Cardinals pitchers appear ready for this. In Game 4 against the Pirates, they became the first team to throw three pitchers, all under 24, in a postseason game.

Is Carl Crawford back as an effective player?

Carl Crawford Crawford

For three years, Crawford hasn't been close to same dynamic player that he was with the Rays. But in the LDS, he showed signs of finding some of his old game. He will never run again the way he used to, but he hit three homers in two games, including joining Davey Lopes (the Dodgers' first-base coach) as the only Dodgers ever to hit two home runs in a postseason game out of the leadoff spot.

It's all about comfort and trust with Crawford. The Dodgers told him before the NLDS that he is their leadoff guy against all pitching, which is more than he has gotten, or deserved, over the past three years. Maybe it's making a difference.

The hope for the Dodgers is that Andre Ethier's ankle injury will heal enough for him to play center field in the LCS, but that's still iffy given that all he could do during the LDS was pinch hit, then needed a pinch runner.

The pick: Cardinals in seven.