The Boston Red Sox were hoping to avoid a Game 4 in the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, yet that is exactly what is on the table.
As such, both teams need to regroup heading forward for, what could be, a pivotal postseason matchup.
Which team will get more from their starting pitcher and who will be the offensive stars and catalysts during the game?
For Boston, one more game is all that is needed to advance to the ALCS, whereas Tampa Bay has to continue their comeback after staving off elimination in Game 3.
The Red Sox obviously want to avoid a Game 5 and will hope to shut the door Tuesday night.
There are a number of keys to each team's success in this game. Whichever team gets the best out of those keys should come away with a Game 4 victory.
Boston Red Sox
Boston will turn to veteran right-handed Jake Peavy to take on the Rays. Boston wanted to clinch in Game 3, but late-inning heroics from the Rays made it otherwise.
Jake Peavy Needs to Pitch Well
This could be an obvious statement, but Peavy has not exactly been stellar as of late. Over his last three starts, Peavy has a 5.21 ERA. He also has not been that effective on the road—a 5.27 ERA in 2013 compared to 2.73 at Fenway Park.
Which Peavy will the Red Sox get on the mound tonight?
The Rays are hitting only .217 against Peavy this season, which bodes well in spite of the aforementioned statistics. Peavy tends to be effective early in the game, yet his ERA tends to rise above 6.00 in innings three and four, which means he can be vulnerable after the first time through the opponent's lineup.
Expect Tampa Bay to try and exploit this transition.
Peavy will also try to shake off his postseason demons having lost both his previous two postseason outings while posting a 12.10 ERA for San Diego.
Hopefully, for Peavy and Boston's sake, things end in their favor. The Red Sox do not want to see David Price in a potential Game 5.
If Boston gets a quality start out of Peavy and is able to turn the game over to their bullpen, the Red Sox should be in good shape.
Keep the Offense Rolling
In their first two wins of the series, Boston put up a combined 19 runs compared to only four in their Game 3 loss.
Some of this could be attributed to playing away from the lofty confines of Fenway Park—they have only a .206 batting average at Tropicana Field—yet in the playoffs, all of those numbers go out the window.
Boston needs to get to Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson early and often and expose Tampa Bay's bullpen as soon as they can. Getting to Tampa Bay's starters was key in Boston's first two games and the formula needs to work in Game 4 for the Red Sox to be successful.
David Ortiz has done the most damage against Hellickson and boasts a .375 batting average with three home runs. Ortiz may be called upon to provide some of the necessary offensive thump for the Red Sox lineup. If they can get something going against Hellickson early, the Rays may be in trouble.
Shane Victorino on the other hand is hitless in three at-bats, yet that is too small of a sample size to assume anything at this point.
Tampa Bay Rays
Game 3 provided some magic for a Rays team trying to avoid elimination in the series.
Jose Lobaton's late-inning home run provided the motivation and means for Tampa Bay to continue playing. Will that momentum carry over in Game 4?
Jeremy Hellickson Needs to Pitch the Game of His Life
In many ways, Hellickson emulates Red Sox starter Jake Peavy. Hellickson also struggled down the stretch, going 1-7 with a 7.53 ERA over his final 10 starts.
Simply put, he needs to pitch as if Tampa Bay's season is on the line because it is.
His lackluster ERA down the stretch does not bode well against a Red Sox team that has dominated offensively in the series thus far. Hellickson does own a 3.44 ERA against Boston in three starts this season so that is good news.
Given how important momentum is in the playoffs however, is it possible that Hellickson's struggles resume in the ALDS?
For the Rays, Hellickson needs to be as sharp as he possibly can be. Tampa Bay cannot afford to get behind early in this game, at least by a sizable margin.
As previously noted, Boston's David Ortiz could be the largest threat to Hellickson's chances. Getting him out, or at least facing him with zero runners on base, will be vital here.
Evan Longoria Can Carry This Team on His Shoulders
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria provided much of Tampa Bay's offensive thump in Game 3. He will need to do more of the same if his team hopes to avoid going home after Game 4.
Longoria has good power numbers against the Red Sox over his career—20 total trailing only the Yankees for teams he likes to hit homers against.
Unfortunately, Longoria has not fared well against Boston starter Jake Peavy. To date, Longoria has hit a mere .200 against the Red Sox right-hander, although two of his three hits have been for extra bases.
Assuming that those stats resemble what may happen in Game 4, Longoria's best chances may come in the later innings against Boston's bullpen. Any base hits or RBI against Peavy would have to be considered a bonus.
Longoria also needs protection around him in the lineup. If Tampa Bay is to succeed, hitters like David Dejesus, Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers will have to get on base for Longoria to be a threat.
If and when that situation happens, Longoria becomes that much more dangerous.
Boston will hope to force the opposite.
For Tampa Bay, their sole concern is forcing Game 5. Expect them to put everything on the line versus the Red Sox in order to achieve this.
Boston wants to quell the Rays recent momentum and shift everything back into their favor. They need a few things to go well in order for this to happen.
In either case, both the Red Sox and Rays will be gunning for everything in this critical Game 4 matchup. What eventually transpires will be a direct result of the listed keys. Whichever team follows these targeted goals should be in excellent shape to win Game 4.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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