As tough as Cardinals starting pitchers Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have been throughout the playoffs, you'd figure that the momentum would be on Boston's side heading to St. Louis for Game 3 if they managed to win just one of the first two games. After all, the "not as tough" duo of Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn are in line to start Games 3 and 4.
Well, they are heading to St. Louis with the series tied at one game apiece after beating Wainwright in the opener. But that momentum sure doesn't appear as if it'll be getting on the plane with them.
After ace Jon Lester shut them down with 7.2 scoreless innings in the opener and John Lackey held them to one earned run through six innings of Game 2, the Cards finally broke through in the seventh inning. A walk, single, double steal, sacrifice fly, throwing error and an RBI single later, the Sox were trailing 4-2 and left to face another dynamic pitching duo—rookie setup man Carlos Martinez and rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal.
Unlike the Tigers, whose late-inning implosions allowed the Sox to come back in multiple ALCS games, the Cardinals aren't having any such trouble thanks to the 22-year-old Martinez and the 23-year-old Rosenthal. The rookie relievers combined on three shutout innings with only one hit allowed and six strikeouts to finish off Game 2.
Even with Kelly and Lynn a much easier task than Wainwright and Wacha, it's Boston's own starting rotation that the team should be worried about.
Game 3 starter Jake Peavy was solid in an ALDS win over the Rays, but he was lit up for seven earned runs in three innings against the Tigers in an ALCS loss. Prior to this season, his only two playoff starts came against the Cardinals while pitching for the Padres. Both resulted in ugly losses.
Pitching in St. Louis as he'll do on Saturday, Peavy allowed eight earned runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings back in his lone start of the NLDS playoffs of 2005. The following season, he faced the Cards at home, but the results weren't much different. He allowed five earned and 11 hits in 5.1 innings.
Three poor playoff starts out of four is a small sample size, as is one October start in St. Louis against a lineup that included just one player—Yadier Molina—from the current squad. But I'm sure the Sox would feel much more confident if three of those four games were good Peavy outings instead of really bad ones.
Boston's likely Game 4 starter, Clay Buchholz, also comes with question marks. The 29-year-old, who missed three months during the regular season with neck and shoulder injuries, has been dealing with shoulder tightness over the past few days.
Manager John Farrell has said that Buchholz (pictured) will be ready to go, according to ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald, and while Buchholz confirmed that he's experienced fatigue in his shoulder, he also says that he'll be ready for the Game 4 start.
"My outlook on it is for me to take a couple of days of treatment and rest, pumping in the fluids and keeping the anti-inflammatories in my system," Buchholz said. "I'll be ready to pitch on Sunday."
But there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding Buchholz's health. After watching the right-hander throw off flat ground on Thursday, WEEI radio host and former Red Sox player Lou Merloni expressed doubt that Buchholz would be able to pitch this weekend:
Just watched Buchholz throw about 10-15 uncomfortable throws on flat ground. That didn't look good— Lou Merloni (@LouMerloni) October 24, 2013
If Buchholz cannot go, the Sox could go with some combination of Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster to get the team through five or six innings. That's not a bad backup plan. But Doubront hasn't started since Sept. 22. Dempster last started on Sept. 17. It will be a lot to ask either to go more than three or four innings.
It doesn't get any easier in Game 5. Beating Wainwright for a second time in five games is hard enough. But the team will have to deal with a potential distraction that will come with the accusation that Lester had an illegal substance on his glove during his Game 1 victory.
Whether it was just rosin, as Lester claims, isn't going to stop the barrage of questions he'll have to deal with leading up to his start.
And if things don't go the Sox's way with Peavy on the mound in Game 3 and whoever ends up starting Game 4, Lester will be under that much more pressure with his team on the brink of elimination.