World Series Game 4 preview: Red Sox at Cardinals
Start time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Series: Cardinals 2-1
Tempting as it may be to continue to pore over the events of Game 3, particularly that wild final play, the fact is that the game is in the books. The Red Sox, who were none too pleased with the way they lost Saturday night, thus have two choices: They can roll over and spend the rest of their lives complaining about a call that the umpires got right, or they can suck it up and try to make that game not matter by rallying to win the World Series.
I expect that, to a man, they will do the latter. Well, at least the sucking it up part. The winning the Series part remains a significant challenge, especially if they lose tonight.
As I wrote prior to Saturday's game, the winner of a tiebreaking Game 3 has won 16 of the last 18 World Series that were tied 1-1 after two games, and that game was particularly crucial to the Red Sox in this series given the questions about Clay Buchholz, their Game 4 starter. Buchholz started Game 3 of the Division Series and American League Championship Series, but he was pushed back to Game 4 in this series because of concerns over the health of his right arm.
Buchholz missed three months of the regular season due to shoulder bursitis and admitted to MLB Network after throwing in the outfield Saturday that he wasn't "able to throw the ball as freely as [he'd] like to." Buchholz, apparently, is dealing with "dead arm," and it seems evident that, if this were the regular season, he would not be making this start. Given that it will be his last appearance of the year, however, he is going to give it all he has. The question is, how much does he have left?
In seven starts since returning from the disabled list in early September, Buchholz has pitched into the seventh inning just once, and since that one occasion, each of his starts has been shorter than the last, down to his five-inning outing against the Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS. Buchholz has had seven days of rest since that game, but by all appearances, Boston will be lucky to get five solid innings out of him Sunday night. Chances are, if Buchholz is still in the game, he'll be pinch-hit for the second time through the batting order, as was the case for Jake Peavy, who pitched four innings in Game 3.
With Felix Doubront, who is normally a starter and hasn't pitched in relief on consecutive days since 2011, having thrown 25 pitches in Game 3, Ryan Dempster, the Red Sox' other displaced starter, could have a large role to play in this game. Dempster, who racked up 87 saves while pitching almost exclusively in relief for the Cubs from 2004 to 2007, has made one relief appearance in each round of this year's playoff. He worked the ninth inning of Game 1 of this Series, giving up an impressive-but-irrelevant home run by Matt Holliday in the process.
A career National Leaguer prior to his trade to the Rangers last July, Dempster has significant histories against many of the Cardinals' veterans (that's a stark contrast to Buchholz, who has never faced any of the hitters on the St. Louis roster). Most notably, Holliday, Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran are a combined .384/.448/.523 in 98 career plate appearances against Dempster.
Beyond Doubront, the Red Sox may try to stay away from Brandon Workman, a converted starter who threw 30 pitches in Game 3 and has pitched on no rest just twice this year, both times following much smaller pitch counts. Every other reliever should be available since none threw more pitches in Game 3 than Junichi Tazawa's 24.
The same is true for the men in the St. Louis bullpen. They'll surely be needed, too, given that Game 4 starter Lance Lynn has not completed the sixth inning in either of his starts this postseason and could show some rust while taking the ball on 11 days of rest.
Beyond the pitching, the Cardinals' lineup is banged up. Carlos Beltran, despite having Friday off to recover from his bruised ribs, did not look good at the plate in Game 3, a fact disguised by his final two plate appearances ending in a hit-by pitch and an intentional walk. Allen Craig, who has been one of the Redbirds' top hitters in this series, wasn't so much running to the plate on the final play as hobbling, and after sliding, he had to be helped off the field and directly to the trainer's room. He may still be able to pinch-hit, but any hope of him playing the field in one of these last two games in St. Louis likely evaporated on that play.
The bulk of St. Louis' offense in this Series has come from Matt Holliday (5-for-13, 3 XBH, 4 RBI, 3 R) and two misguided throws to third base that gifted the Cardinals with two game-winning runs. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are hitting just .188/.259/.302 after three games. Take out David Ortiz (5-for-8, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R) and the pitchers, and the rest of the Boston bats are hitting .151/.213/.209.
Given that, for all of the questionable decisions made by Red Sox manager John Farrell in Game 3, the one decision he got demonstrably correct was finally starting Daniel Nava in left field over Jonny Gomes against the Cardinals' all-right-handed rotation. All Nava did in Game 3 was drive in half of the Sox' four runs. Nava now is 2-for-6 with a double in the World Series, but he's second on the team in all three slash stats. If the Red Sox win Game 4, they'll tie up the Series and guarantee themselves a Game 6 back in Boston on Wednesday. If they lose, they'll face elimination with Adam Wainwright on the Busch Stadium mound in Monday night's Game 5. It's time for them to put up or shut up.