David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES (USA TODAY) - They went 42-8 to save their season.
Now they must go 3-0 to save their postseason.
On the bright side, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost 4-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night to fall to a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, have their top three pitchers - Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu - ready to go in Games 5, 6 and 7. All three of them had superb starts against the Cardinals in Games 1, 2 and 3.
On the dark side (take a deep breath):
There is no margin for error. They must win three consecutive games or they are done.
They must not only win today in Game 5, with Greinke starting, but then must go to St. Louis and win two where they most recently lost two.
They might have to do it without their best hitter, Hanley Ramirez, who played again Tuesday with a cracked rib but struck out three times before giving way to Nick Punto. One of their other best hitters, Andre Ethier, is playing but at much less than 100%, battling through a leg injury.
They must do it against a young, flame-throwing Cardinals pitching staff that, despite the emergence of Yasiel Puig as a factor in the Dodgers offense the past two games, seemingly has the Dodgers scouted perfectly and is executing the plan superbly.
And, of course, they still don't have Matt Kemp. Remember him? Power hitter? MVP candidate a couple of years ago?
Of utmost concern is Ramirez. His condition regressed Tuesday.
"It just felt worse today," he said after the game. "A lot of pain."
How he goes from leaving the game Tuesday night in pain to getting on the field for a 1 p.m. game Wednesday afternoon is unknown.
"I don't know," he said. "A lot of treatment. We'll do everything. Steam. Ice."
Even if he does get on the field, can he do any more than he did in Game 4, when he failed to put the ball in play?
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know why it was worse today. I don't know what happened. It's frustrating. It makes me angry."
It makes the Dodgers more vulnerable. When Ramirez was healthy this season, which was about half the time, he hit .345 with 20 homers and 57 RBI in 86 games, hitting the ball perhaps harder than anyone in baseball.
"If he stays healthy all year, he's the MVP of the National League," said Punto, who will likely get the start at shortstop if Ramirez is a no-go. "He knows how important he is. He's going to put pressure on himself to try to be out there. Nobody needs to say anything to him."
"We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "We'll be ready to play tomorrow. That's all there is to it."
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the team's top RBI guy and most consistent hitter this season, is suddenly carrying a big load offensively. Will he and his teammates be deflated if they show up today and Ramirez isn't in the lineup?
"No, we're ready to go either way," he said. "We're going to focus on who's in the lineup, not who's not. We've got a team that can beat anybody with the team we put out there. That's what our depth is all about."
That depth was important in helping get the Dodgers out of last place in June and contributed to the team's amazing 42-8 streak that put it in control of the NL West.
Two of those reserves, Punto and Skip Schumaker, had chances to be heroes Tuesday but left the clubhouse feeling like goats.
With the Dodgers trying to claw back from a 4-2 deficit in the seventh inning, Punto drilled a one-out double to center field but immediately got picked off by relief pitcher Carlos Martinez.
"That's a lonely place to be," Punto said. "I don't wish that on anybody."
Schumaker pinch-hit in the bottom of the fourth for starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco, the Dodgers having scored two runs off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in the inning and looking for more with two runners on and one out.
Schumaker grounded into a double play.
"I know what Nick's feeling," he said. "It's tough."
The Dodgers might feel more hopeless if they hadn't started the season 30-42 and still ended up with a division title and a spot in the NLCS.
"That helps, having been through some tough times," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "All we've got to do is put together a three-game winning streak, and start it in the next game."
The Dodgers kept repeating that they have great pitching ready to go. But then, don't the Cardinals? They are ready with Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, all of whom frustrated the Dodgers the first time around.
"They've executed just as well as we have, especially on the mound," Ellis said. "They've shown everybody in baseball that they have a bunch of young power arms. We have to somehow solve that riddle."