With a wacky and wild series down to a best-of-three, a look at some of what could factor in as the Sox attempt to move within one win of a world title...
1. Get to Adam Wainwright early -- again.
The Sox can't expect to jump on Wainwright the way they did in Game 1, when an error by shortstop Pete Kozma enabled a three-run rally, then Boston tacked on two more in the second thanks in part to more sloppy St. Louis defense. But they may still get their best opportunities early.
Wainwright posted a 6.09 ERA and allowed opponents to bat .326 against him in the first inning this season, both by far the worst numbers of any frame. His ERA was a rather pedestrian 3.92 over the first three innings, but then dropped to 2.49 in innings 4-6, and 1.67 in innings 7-9.
Seven times this season he's surrendered at least four runs in an outing -- and on five of those occasions the opponents struck for at least one in the opening frame. The Sox have started games notoriously slowly throughout this postseason, but Monday night it's important that they score early not only because it's when the ace-like Wainwright is most vulnerable, but because after two taxing contests they do not want to put themselves in a position where for the sake of offense they need to pinch-hit for starting pitcher Jon Lester earlier than they'd prefer.
2. Lester needs to go deep in the game.
Felix Doubront has thrown almost five innings the past two nights, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have pitched in both of those games, as well, Craig Breslow has struggled lately, Franklin Morales isn't reliable in high-leverage spots, and with no off-day between it's unlikely a starter could come to the rescue like John Lackey did in Game 4.
Therefore the Boston bullpen in the middle innings is basically Brandon Workman and the little-used Ryan Dempster, so it would be enormous if Lester was able to come anywhere close to the 7.2 innings he completed in Game 1, or even to pitch into the seventh inning, as he has in three of his four postseason starts.
The one outlier was his outing in Detroit, where he allowed seven hits and two runs over 5.1 innings, and what's a bit concerning about that one is that it's the only start Lester has made during these playoffs on the normal four days of rest. During the regular season, Lester's ERA was 4.24 with four days between starts -- and 2.91 with five days between appearances.
He takes the mound in Game 5 just four days removed from his previous game.
3. Play good defense.
This should be a given in a matchup of the two best teams in baseball, but thus far the momentum of this series has swung toward whichever team was sharper with its gloves. Just make the routine plays, make smart decisions defensively, and not beat themselves with mistakes, they should be in a good position.
The Cardinals have yet to beat them without being aided greatly by an errant throw that skipped down the left-field line. Perhaps Uehara's pickoff of Kolten Wong to end Game 4 is an indication of the defensive headiness to come for Boston.
4. Do a better job with the bottom of the Cardinals' lineup.
David Freese, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, and Kozma have in some combination comprised the Nos. 6-8 spots in the Cardinals' lineup the past couple of games. And combined they're 3-for-39 in the series.
But despite that .077 average, Red Sox pitching has issued eight walks to those four batters, and in doing so has put itself in positions where it's forced to reckon with the likes of Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday more often than it might otherwise. Particularly in National League rules, a walk to that part of the order could mean the difference between the Cardinals getting to begin the next inning with their leadoff man or with their pitcher, so even when the walks don't lead directly to runs, they do have consequences.
For Game 5 in particular, Shane Robinson will sub in for Jay against the left-handed Lester, and he'll hit second, so first baseman Matt Adams slide down to seventh. He's got some pop -- but the point remains. He's 3-for-17 in the series, and he hit .208 against southpaws this season. He's a guy the Sox should get out.
5. Protect David Ortiz.
With Shane Victorino missing his second straight games with a back issue, and the No. 2 hole thus vacated, John Farrell shuffled his lineup up a bit in an effort to give David Ortiz some additional protection after the Cardinals began to suggest they're done pitching to the slugger who's batting .727 in the series.
Dustin Pedroia will bat second, and Ortiz will bat third, so it'll be up to Jonny Gomes (batting fourth) and Daniel Nava (batting fifth) to make sure Big Papi gets his pitches. They've both done that job thus far in this series, with Gomes following an Ortiz walk with a three-run homer on Sunday, and Nava driving in two runs when batting right behind Ortiz in Saturday's game -- but St. Louis is still likely to make those two outfielders prove they can do so against Wainwright before the big righty gives Ortiz a chance to beat him.
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