ST. LOUIS -- The only thing the Cardinals needed Thursday afternoon was a set of textbooks, because Clayton Kershaw took them to school.

Over seven innings, the Cardinals did not find an answer for the Dodgers' phenom, who mowed down hitter after hitter. Allowing three hits on the day, Kershaw sent the Cardinals to a 4-1 loss as they head to Chicago to face the Cubs in an essential National League Central series.

"He pitched really well," said Joe Mather. "He hides the ball well and throws the ball hard. That's a good combination for a pitcher to have."

Cesar Izturis -- who is batting .243 on the year -- got two of the Cardinals' hits off Kershaw, and both were singles.

After scoring a combined 15 runs over the past two games, the offense met its match in the series finale. Wherever it escaped to, the Cardinals have 24 hours to rediscover it before facing the division-leading Cubs.

Even though the Cardinals threw out a dud on Thursday, there were still silver linings to be found. After all, the Cardinals did win yet another series and their goal all year long has been to do just that.

And while Kyle Lohse looked very beatable through the first four innings, He retired the last 10 batters he faced, and only one Dodger reached base the final five innings.

"[Lohse] competed today," manager Tony La Russa said. "His stuff was good enough, he just didn't get anything. You've got to tip your hat to the Dodgers."

Appearing in the eighth inning in his first appearance since struggling on Tuesday, Jason Isringhausen showed a glimpse of the old Izzy, striking out the side in the top of the ninth. He faced the minimum six batters over two innings of relief.

"It was a legitimate Major League challenge, and it shows what he's capable of doing," La Russa said.

With Isringhausen suddenly dominant once again, the Cardinals, who faced Jonathan Broxton in the bottom of the ninth, began to carry that momentum into the bottom half of the inning.

Ryan Ludwick singled, took second on a wild pitch and landed on third after Troy Glaus grounded out. Felipe Lopez walked, stole second and with one out and Rick Ankiel at the plate, the Cardinals had a chance.

But Ankiel, pinch-hitting for the fourth straight game as he is limited with a lower abdominal strain, struck out on a 3-2 count. Skip Schumaker struck out in the ensuing at-bat.

The Dodgers left their mark on offense early. Lohse gave up a single to James Loney in the first inning with two outs to score Jeff Kent. Two innings later, Lohse served up a two-seam fastball to Manny Ramirez that did not move. The ball didn't last in the field of play long.

"He's one of those guys that doesn't miss that many," Lohse said. "If you give him a cookie, he's probably going to hit it."

After Ramirez belted his two-run home run to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead, Juan Pierre took advantage of Lohse's self-described second mistake in the fourth inning. Pierre tripled to right field to score Danny Ardoin.

"I was trying to go in on the hands, and I just left it out over the middle," Lohse said. "I wish you could take those pitches back, but you can't. ... Those were two bad mistakes in key situations.

"I was rushing through my motion. Who knows why? Sometimes you get out of rhythm. I don't know how to explain it."

After that, Lohse calmed down and gave the Cardinals a fighting chance.

In the fifth inning, Aaron Miles singled and took second on a wild pitch. Cesar Izturis followed with a single -- the first time this year he has had three multi hit games in a row -- to score Miles.

From then on, though, only three Cardinals reached base over the final four innings.

Unable to gain ground on the Cubs and Brewers while both were idle, the Cardinals fell to six games behind Chicago in the NL Central and one game behind Milwaukee in NL Wild Card race.

"You don't see too many sweeps," La Russa said. "We took our shot today. We just ran into a very good pitcher."