Following a dramatic 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday night, the Boston Red Sox should be concerned. It's been more than a century since the franchise last overcame a 2-1 deficit to clinch the Fall Classic (1903 versus Pittsburgh Pirates).
The Red Sox cannot rely on Cy Young's help this time around, but trusting these guidelines will give them an excellent chance of repeating that feat in 2013.
Prepare for Clay Buchholz's Early Departure
The All-Star will be on the mound in Game 4, but he won't be at full strength. It unfortunately seems that shoulder tightness has affected his confidence:
Buchholz on Game 4 start: "I'm not 100%, but I don't think anybody is 100%...One thing I have in my mind is to go out there and compete."— Jenny Dell (@JennyDellNESN) October 26, 2013
Clay Buchholz said today he'd be happy to repeat last ALCS start line of 5 IP and 2 runs allowed. Way to aim for the stars, Clay. #RedSox— Andrew H. Martin (@historianandrew) October 26, 2013
Despite burning through their best relievers in Game 3, the Red Sox must do so again on Sunday. Buchholz hasn't been efficient with his pitch counts during the postseason, and with obvious physical limitations, it's difficult to envision him navigating through a contact-oriented Cardinals lineup more than twice.
Manager John Farrell surely admires the right-hander's courage, but that doesn't mean he should watch idly as Buchholz drags Boston into a 3-1 abyss. The best-case scenario involves him getting into the middle innings unscathed by inducing lazy fly balls.
Patient Approach Against Lance Lynn
This 26-year-old is clearly the weakest link in the St. Louis rotation. His shaky efforts so far this postseason attest to that (9.2 IP, 7 ER in two starts).
Lynn should be a very beatable opponent because of his reliance on fastballs. According to FanGraphs, he threw the highest percentage of them among all qualified National League starters during the regular season. Conveniently, the Red Sox lineup produced baseball's most runs above average against fastballs.
With that said, Boston's batters should come to the plate with a willingness to work deep counts.
That's because the majority of them will swing from the left side. Brooks Baseball shows us that in 2013, Lynn has only used his four-seamer 43.39 percent of the time when beginning a duel at a platoon disadvantage. That figure has been similar so far this postseason.
The Red Sox should allow plate appearances to progress and work themselves into obvious fastball counts.
Continue Starting David Ortiz
Big Papi obviously doesn't give the Red Sox their optimal defensive alignment, but they absolutely need his bat throughout Games 4 and 5 (unless there's a golden opportunity to pinch run). His .418 on-base percentage in the playoffs makes that perfectly clear.
The ageless slugger has shown recently that he can prevail in matchups that left-handed batters seldom do. He homered against Kevin Siegrist in the series opener, even though the reliever allowed only one extra-base hit in 79 left-on-left matchups during the regular season.
The next night, Ortiz was a thorn in Michael Wacha's side. Thanks to a filthy changeup, the rookie sensation generally has no issues with players of the opposite handedness. This is what an exception looks like:
So long as we're playing by NL rules, Farrell has to keep usual first baseman Mike Napoli in the dugout.
Force a Game 7
Every World Series since 1980 that has gone that far ended in misery for the road team.
The Cardinals certainly realize that; they've experienced Game 7 of the World Series from both perspectives during the past several decades:
|Outcome of World Series Game 7s (Since 1980)|
|Year||Road Team||Home Team||Game 7 Winner|
|2011||Texas Rangers||St. Louis Cardinals||Cardinals|
|2002||San Francisco Giants||Anaheim Angels||Angels|
|2001||New York Yankees||Arizona Diamondbacks||Diamondbacks|
|1997||Cleveland Indians||Florida Marlins||Marlins|
|1991||Atlanta Braves||Minnesota Twins||Twins|
|1987||St. Louis Cardinals||Minnesota Twins||Twins|
|1986||Boston Red Sox||New York Mets||Mets|
|1985||St. Louis Cardinals||Kansas City Royals||Royals|
|1982||Milwaukee Brewers||St. Louis Cardinals||Cardinals|
Assuming the Red Sox earn a return trip to Fenway Park, there's no doubt that its raucous crowd and quirky dimensions would create a huge advantage for them.
Switch Roles of Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront
The Red Sox sacrificed Jose Iglesias, an exciting and affordable shortstop, to add Jake Peavy to their starting rotation.
The transaction has come back to bite them in October. As Alex Speier of WEEI.com explains, current everyday shortstop Stephen Drew is providing historically anemic postseason production. Peavy labored through four innings in Game 3 and has surrendered 24 hits in 18.2 innings pitched since Sept. 25.
To ensure that the aforementioned Game 7 trend continues, Boston should trust Doubront to take Peavy's place. He is everything that the Cardinals fear: left-handed, difficult to hit and unfamiliar.
The NL champs batted only .238/.301/.371 against southpaws in 2013, compared to .280/.343/.412 versus right-handers. Matt Adams and Carlos Beltran were especially affected, but Mike Matheny doesn't have any suitable substitutes for either of them.
Moreover, Baseball-Reference.com tells us that St. Louis responded poorly to power pitching all summer. The 26-year-old Doubront fits into that category on the strength of his elevated strikeout and walk rates.
Perhaps most importantly, no Cardinals batters had ever seen him in a meaningful game prior to Saturday night. The 25 pitches he threw over two scoreless innings won't give them much to study.
An ultra-competitive former ace like Peavy is going to be less than thrilled with a demotion, but he'll accept it to help this team satisfy its champagne craving.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.