With the World Series down to a best-of-five as the Red Sox and Cardinals take the festivities to Busch Stadium, here's a look at five keys for Boston in Saturday night's Game 3...
1. Get something from the bottom of the lineup.
Since Mike Napoli's three-run double in the first inning of Game 1, the Nos. 5-9 spots in the Red Sox lineup have combined to go 2-for-33 (0.61) -- and one of those hits was the Stephen Drew popup that fell between befuddled pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina early in the series opener.
Throw in a couple of walks and a sacrifice fly, and that half of the Sox lineup has reached base at a .111 clip against the Cardinals over that same span, and what's scary is the bottom of the order is about to be thinned out even further. Saturday night they'll put Jake Peavy into that portion of the lineup, while removing Napoli, because the National League doesn't allow the designated hitter. It'll stay that way through Game 5.
Obviously the Sox survived the struggles of their lower-half to win Game 1, but Game 2 showed why that might not be sustainable. Against a team with a bullpen as talented as St. Louis' is, a team can't afford to give away innings, or even at-bats. It's going to be difficult for the Sox to score late in games, so it's imperative that they keep the line moving, and turn the lineup over frequently enough that their big bats have a chance to do damage. Those batters in the 6, 7, and 8 spots don't necessarily need to drive in runs, or score themselves -- but every time they draw a walk or get a hit, the Sox get one batter closer to Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, both of whom are hot.
In an effort to help that, John Farrell will use Daniel Nava -- he of the eighth-best average and fifth-best OBP in the AL this season -- as his left fielder for Game 3. And while Drew might look like a lost cause at this point in what's been a dreadful postseason offensively, here's one reason to think he could come around:
Before going 3-for-4 with a double and a triple on May 26, Drew was 1 for his previous 24. Before going 4-for-5 with a homer and two doubles on June 4, he was 2 for 23. Before going 3-for-5 on June 21, he was 7 for 47. And before going 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs on July 27, he was 1 for 15.
The point is, Drew has shown a tendency to bust out of slumps in a big, bold way. The Sox can't expect that to happen Saturday -- but, if it does, it might be exactly what they need to win Game 3.
2. Peavy must harness his emotions, make adjustments, and battle.
One quote sums up a lot of what will factor into Peavy's performance Saturday night, when he takes the mound for the first time since the Tigers touched him for seven runs over three-plus innings in the ALCS.
"Everything is fixed, fixable," he said Friday. "It wasn't too much to read into it, really. People want to make it ‑‑ just a small, small adjustment that can make all the difference in the world. And there's absolutely no excuses tomorrow night. This is what I've lived for my whole life is to ‑‑ my whole baseball career, I should say -- to have this opportunity to go out there on the biggest stage and have a chance to help your team win a World Series game and a World Series title."
He's had 10 days to identify and make the adjustments, so now it's a matter of executing, and keeping himself under control. When he says that he's been working toward this opportunity his entire life, the hope is obviously that he'll use that focus and motivation for good.
But with a guy as intense, as self-critical, as emotional as Peavy, there's also the risk that it gets in the way of him simply making pitches. A four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to a floundering Austin Jackson was evidence that the moment maybe got to him a bit against Detroit, so he's got to find a way to rein it in a bit better at Busch Stadium. He's got to find a way to keep his team -- and himself -- in the game.
Particularly with Clay Buchholz' stamina a serious question for Sunday, the Sox simply can't afford to see their bullpen taxed on Saturday night.
3. Be careful with Matt Holliday.
The Cardinals' left fielder has a homer and a triple in this series so far, continuing a torrid stretch that's seen him hit .333 with 29 RBIs in 36 games since the start of September, and making him the biggest threat in a Cardinal lineup featuring a bruised Carlos Beltran and absent Allen Craig.
Holliday has a history of success against Peavy, too, dating back to their days as counterparts in the National League West. In 38 plate appearances, Holliday is 8-for-28, with a .286 batting average and a .474 on-base percentage -- thanks in large part to 10 walks.
That says Peavy has either preferred to pitch around Holliday, or his stuff doesn't fool the slugger into chasing -- and the reality is probably a combination of both. Regardless, not giving Holliday much to hit wouldn't be a bad strategy for the Sox in their next encounters.
4. Be patient, and put the ball in play against Joe Kelly.
After facing so many strikeout pitchers this postseason, and setting a record for whiffs in the ALCS, the right-handed Kelly presents the Sox with a difference type of challenge.
He throws hard, with a two-seamer that sits close to 95 mph, but it's not an overpowering heater, as evidenced by his rate of 5.7 strikeouts per inning this season, and there's not a lot of variety in his approach. Two of every three pitches is a fastball, which is fine if he can spot it effectively -- but, like his strikeout rate, his 3.2 walks per nine inning rate is also worse than average.
The Red Sox are a lineup built to punish a pitcher for being predictable and for not commanding, so if they can remain patient and disciplined, Kelly is a guy they could create opportunities against. He's good at getting out of trouble, which explains his 2.69 ERA despite a 1.35 WHIP, but Boston will take its chances if it's repeatedly one hit away from denting the scoreboard.
5. Use the bench.
Given the slumps plaguing the bottom of the order, given the NL rules requiring the pitcher to hit, and given the fact that, lest we forget, it was a major strength for the Sox throughout the regular season, John Farrell should consider being more aggressive with the way he uses his bench while the series is in St. Louis.
Remember, the Sox tied a team record with seven pinch-hit home runs this season, and their reserves matched the Phillies’ for the most homers off the bench in baseball. Boston's reserves were also second in slugging percentage, and fourth in on-base percentage, leading to the third-best OPS in the majors (.799) – while the Cardinals’ was the third-worst (.519).
Now Napoli joins that mix, as does Gomes, who Farrell trusted enough to start the first two games. Will Middlebrooks is another right-hander, and Mike Carp is available from the left side. There's power there, and if nothing else making a substitution here or there could force Mike Matheny to rethink the way he orchestrates things in his bullpen, if it doesn't succeed in creating a more favorable matchup.
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