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The Strike Zone

World Series Game 3 preview: Red Sox at Cardinals

Although an accomplished regular-season starter, Jake Peavy has run into problems in the playoffs. (Scott W. Grau/Icon SMI) Although an accomplished regular-season starter, Jake Peavy has run into problems in the playoffs. (Scott W. Grau/Icon SMI)

Red Sox at Cardinals

Start time: 8:07 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Series: Tied 1-1

Starting pitchers: Jake Peavy (0-1, 8.31 ERA) vs. Joe Kelly (0-1, 4.41 ERA)

Even though it breaks an early tie in the series, one wouldn't think a Game 3 that gives one team a one-game lead in the World Series would be as important as a Game 2 or 4 that could result in a two-game lead. Yet, as I wrote on Friday, since the start of divisional play in 1969 the teams that have won Game 3 in a tied World Series have gone on to win the championship 16 of 18 times.

In tonight's pivotal Game 3, the Cardinals have a pretty good idea of what they can expect from 25-year-old righty Joe Kelly. Just one of Kelly's 18 starts this year has lasted more than 6 1/3 innings -- and he threw just seven frames in the exception -- but he has also completed at least five innings in all 18 starts and he hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in any of them. To put it another way, Kelly is going to keep the Cards in the game, but he's not going to win it for them. That's going to be up to the offense and the bullpen.

We saw in Game 2 what the St. Louis bullpen is capable of, as rookies Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined for three scoreless innings in which they allowed just one hit -- a groundball single by David Ortiz -- and walked no one while striking out six. We also saw rightfielder Carlos Beltran quiet concerns about his bruised right side by playing the entire game and going 2-for-4 with a two-out RBI single in the seventh.

Beltran and Martinez, who threw just 24 pitches in his two innings, have since had a day off to recover, and the Series now moves to St. Louis, where the Cardinals not only have the advantage of a familiar, pitcher-friendly ballpark, the home crowd and last licks, but also of facing a Red Sox lineup that will be forced to sit a middle-of-the-order hitter due to the lack of a designated hitter.

Mike Napoli (1-for-7, 2B, BB) will sit to start Game 3 in deference to the red-hot David Ortiz (4-for-6, 2 HR, 5 RBIs in the World Series despite being robbed of a grand slam by Beltran in Game 1). That move will not only force Boston to play most of the game without its normal No. 5 hitter (Napoli's one hit was a three-run double, making him the only player other than Ortiz to have multiple RBIs thus far in this series), but it will weaken its defense. Ortiz has averaged just five games a year at first base over the last five years, while Napoli, a converted catcher, has impressed in the field this postseason.

Ironically, the Cardinals face a similar conundrum. Allen Craig, the team's designated hitter in the first two games at Fenway Park, has thus far looked better at the plate in this series than first baseman Matt Adams, reaching base three times in eight trips compared to Adams' one. But Craig, who returned in Game 1 from a month and a half of inaction due to a sprained right foot, doesn't appear ready to play the field, meaning he won't start this game (though it's worth noting that St. Louis won the Division and League Championship Series without any contribution from Craig).

The real wild card in this game, however, is Boston starter Jake Peavy. Based on his career accomplishments (2007 NL Cy Young award, three All-Star appearances, 3.51 career ERA, 132 wins) Peavy is an impressive Game 3 starter, and he turned in a strong start at Busch Stadium just last year (7 IP, 1 R) while with the White Sox (the only time he has faced the Cards since 2008).

However, including the National League wild-card tiebreaker in 2007, Peavy is still looking for his first quality start in five career playoff starts. Four of those starts were disasters (meaning he allowed as many or more runs than innings pitched), and his ERA in the five combined is 9.84. In his last start, he gave up seven runs in three innings against the Tigers in the ALCS. What's more, Beltran owns him, boasting a .400/.480/.800 line in 25 career plate appearances against Peavy, including going 3-for-3 with a home run in that game at Busch Stadium last year.

Peavy's one respectable postseason start, however, was his other from this postseason: 5 2/3 innings and one run against the Rays in the Division Series. That was also the only one of his five playoff starts that his team went on to win. So which Jake Peavy will show up in this game? Will it be the accomplished 12-year veteran and former Cy Young award winner? Or will it be the postseason disaster? The Red Sox obviously hope it's the former, not only for this game, but because if this Series goes the distance, it will be Peavy's turn again in Game 7.

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