Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Lineup changes ahead for Sox
BOSTON -- As the World Series heads for St. Louis with a Fenway Park split having whittled baseball's championship to a best-of-five, there is no time for the Red Sox to waste. No time to wait out a slump. No time to let a guy come around.
No time to leave intact the bottom four spots in the lineup when those players have gone 2-for-27 (.074) in this series and have reached base only three times in 29 trips to the plate, particularly when the shift to a National League ballpark means the ninth hitter in the order will be a pitcher for the next three games.
So tonight, John Farrell will change it up, as he should. Daniel Nava will play left field for the Sox in Game 3, with Jonny Gomes heading to the bench after two hitless tilts, and not coincidentally after a Boston loss, with Thursday's 4-2 defeat being the first in the eight games Gomes has started this postseason.
"He's going to factor in the series going forward," Farrell said of Gomes. "For the outfield size, with the matchup that we like a left handed hitter in Nava a little more, that's why Daniel is in there."
While it was intangibles, consistency, karma, superstition — whatever — that kept Gomes in the lineup, it was a 1-for-17 skid that left Farrell with little choice but to take him out, especially when considering that the alternative finished eighth in the American League in batting this season (.303), with the fifth-best on-base percentage (.385).
He's hitting .308 with a .438 OBP in six postseason games, too, so the stage hasn't been too big for a guy in the midst of his inaugural playoff experience, and that level of production isn't something the Sox can afford to leave on their bench considering how vapid the bottom of the order has been, how the lineup will naturally be shortened without a designated hitter, and how few other options Farrell has.
Fans have clamored for Stephen Drew to be benched, and the manager has heard it over the course of Drew's 4-for-42 postseason at the plate, but Farrell has been adamant about the confidence he has in Drew's defense at shortstop. He already made the move to Xander Bogaerts instead of Will Middlebrooks at the end of the American League Championship Series, so essentially the decision on Drew comes down to this: Are the Red Sox better off with Middlebrooks' bat in the lineup and Bogaerts at short, or with Drew's glove in the lineup and Bogaerts at third?
With Middlebrooks hitting .174 this postseason, Farrell's answer is the latter.
The only other place where he could really make a change is behind the plate, and even then it wouldn't be motivated mainly by offense. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the better hitter, but he is 6-for-29 in these playoffs with 17 strikeouts. David Ross, meanwhile, is the better defender.
So if defense is a priority with Drew at shortstop, it would make sense to also prioritize it at an even more premium defensive position, like catcher. And that Ross has hit decently of late is an added bonus.
That all said, the Sox's best weapon as far as dealing with the National League style, and dealing with the slumps down in the order, might be their bench. The NL game involves more substitutions and pinch-hitting, and throughout this season Boston's depth thrived in those roles.
Matching a team-record with seven pinch-hit home runs, Sox reserves tied the Phillies' bench for the most homers in baseball, were second in slugging percentage, and fourth in on-base percentage. Their OPS off the bench was the third-best in the majors (.799) — while the Cardinals' was the third-worst (.519).
In a tight game, that could be an advantage for the Sox, especially with Mike Napoli added to the mix as David Ortiz takes over first base tonight, and using those bats more aggressively might be a way for the Sox to change the look of their lineup if the time is right. And down to a best-of-five, that could be at any moment now.
"It's been one of our strengths," Gomes said of the bench after Game 2. "They've got a good bench, too, but at the same time they don't have a Napoli or a Papi coming off theirs, so hopefully it'll help us. Myself, (Mike) Carp, Nava have done a good job as a whole pinch-hitting all year, so if it does come down to it. (Jake) Peavy could grab the ball, go the distance and get himself four at-bats, you never know, we'll take the challenge and run with it."
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Peavy pitches for the Sox tonight against the Cardinals' Joe Kelly, making his third start of the postseason but his most pressure-packed. Peavy pitched Game 4 in each of the first two rounds and both times the Sox were up two games to one. Now he comes in with the series tied, and knowing that if he loses tonight, his team will need to win three of the last four to be champs.
"There's absolutely no excuses tomorrow night," Peavy said Friday. "This is what I've lived for my whole life is to my whole baseball career, I should say, to have this opportunity to go out there on the biggest stage and have a chance to help your team win a World Series game and a World Series title.
"I'm as prepared as I'll ever be, physically, mentally, and we'll go out there tomorrow night and see if we can execute pitch by pitch, and find a way to win."
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Both managers announced their Game 4 starters on Friday. Mike Matheny said it will be Lance Lynn for St. Louis, while Farrell reiterated that it'll be Clay Buchholz for Boston.
"He went through a throwing program (Friday)," the manager said. "Went back to about 100 feet with some increased intensity along the way, and he's starting Sunday."
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.