The 2013 World Series is heading back to Busch Stadium in St. Louis deadlocked in a 1-1 series tie. By the end of Saturday evening's swing game, one team will only need a split in the final four games to capture a championship.
As with every matchup, Game 3 will be largely determined by the starting pitching battle between St. Louis starter Joe Kelly and Boston's Jake Peavy. While the battle is intriguing, it also is unexpected.
Due to injury complications with Clay Buchholz, the Boston rotation was altered. After Jon Lester took the ball in Game 1, John Lackey drew the assignment in Thursday evening's Game 2. Buchholz will now be pushed back to Game 4 on Sunday night.
That leaves the baseball world with Joe Kelly vs. Jake Peavy.
As we dove into the numbers to preview Game 3 from a pitching perspective, one thing became abundantly clear: John Farrell needed to make changes to his lineup; otherwise St. Louis would have taken the field on Saturday night with the strategical advantage in the game.
Without the luxury of the designated hitter in the National League park, Farrell, the likely AL Manager of the Year, is between a rock and a hard place. Both David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are excellent, accomplished October hitters, but both can't start due to their inability to man any position other than first base.
Yes, Napoli used to be a starting catcher, but those days are long, long gone. As Farrell reiterated (via ESPN Boston) prior to Game 2, the Red Sox are not going to run Napoli out there now for the first time all season.
As we take a look at Joe Kelly's splits, Farrell has to use this type of the data to his advantage. The following chart shows how Kelly has fared against left-handed and right-handed hitters, respectively, in his short career.
The 82-point difference in OPS is significant. Simply put, left-handed hitters are far more dangerous against Kelly than right-handed batters. When sizing up the first base decision, Ortiz's postseason genius can be cited, along with leadership and other narratives fans will soak up, but the bottom line remains this: Ortiz should be the first baseman in Game 3 because he has a better chance of hitting Kelly hard.
Farrell's logic shouldn't stop there. As Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk pointed out, the Red Sox continued to deploy a strange strategy in their lineup: Using Johnny Gomes over Daniel Nava against right-handed pitching. All year long, Gomes played against lefties and Nava mashed righties.
As the numbers show, there's no comparison when looking at the two players. Despite that, the Boston manager had Gomes starting in left field for eight of the team's first 12 playoff games, regardless of the fact that Boston was facing mostly right-handed starters.
The Ortiz-Napoli and Nava-Gomes decisions are big, but take on an even greater importance when looking at Jake Peavy's numbers. As the data shows, Boston is likely going to need to score some runs early and often to combat what could be a tough night for Peavy.
Heading into Game 3, the pressure will be on Peavy to fill-in admirably for Buchholz, win his first career postseason game and exercise the demons of pitching on the road in 2013.
When Boston traded for Peavy in late July, it looked like a deal designed to deliver the starting pitching depth necessary to hold off Tampa, Baltimore and New York in the AL East. The trade worked to perfection. Peavy helped stabilize the rotation during Buchholz's extended absence and Ryan Dempster's ineffective season.
Now, though, Peavy is needed to be more than a stabilizer. He's being asked to win a pivotal Game 3 against a St. Louis lineup that has two veterans, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, that have hit him hard. Factor in the venue, Busch Stadium, and the concerns about Peavy's ability to pitch well are evident.
The following chart shows Peavy's career numbers against the projected St. Louis lineup in Game 3. While there's not much history against some of the younger players, the veteran Peavy has been around long enough, including many years in the National League, to have a large sample size against St. Louis' No. 2 and No. 3 hitters.
That sample size, well, isn't going to help Red Sox fans sleep. If Beltran and Holliday can do damage against Peavy, RBI opportunities will be there for Matt Adams and Yadier Molina. Even if Peavy can navigate through the Beltran-Holliday duo, his struggles away from home in 2013 (with Chicago and Boston) should be a talking point heading into this game.
Despite pitching his 2013 home games in notoriously hitter-friendly stadiums (U.S. Cellular Field and Fenway Park), Peavy was a remarkably better pitcher at home in 2013 than anywhere else.
Statistics with small sample sizes can be misleading, but there's something to be said when a home-road split is that pronounced. If Peavy can't find a way to be effective in St. Louis, his potential Game 7 start, in Fenway Park, might not occur.
Based on pedigree, history and experience, it would be easy to assume that Boston is taking the better pitcher into Game 3 on Saturday night, but the numbers say otherwise. Peavy will have to overcome an odd home-road split and the dynamic duo of Beltran-Holliday to keep his team in the game. His manager, John Farrell, has made the proper lineup card changes to help Peavy's case, though, allowing Boston to somewhat even the playing field and make life difficult for St. Louis' Joe Kelly.
On paper, this game looks like it belongs to St. Louis. On Saturday night, execution and decision making will determine which team gets the 2-1 series lead.
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