Carlos Beltran vs. Craig Breslow
In 45 career playoff games, Beltran is one of the best in baseball history. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder sports a .337 average, 16 home runs, 37 RBI and an absurd 1.173 on-base plus slugging (OPS). But he's never played in a World Series ... until now.
"Since I had my first opportunity to play in the postseason in Houston I told myself I'm going to go out and play the game, relax. I did that and I got (good) results," Beltran said Tuesday.
Beltran is at it again this postseason. He has 12 RBI, many of them in crucial situations, and it's extremely likely he'll be up again at some point in the late innings with the game on the line. When that happens, Breslow likely will be waiting. Beltran, a switch-hitter, had a .252 average and .729 OPS from the right side this season. Hitting lefty, those numbers were much better — a .315 average and an .871 OPS.
Breslow actually had better numbers this season against right-handed batters, holding them to a .208 average and .581 OPS. Even if someone else faces Beltran, Boston relievers have been outstanding as a whole this postseason as well, compiling a 0.84 bullpen ERA, allowing three runs and 23 hits in 32 innings.
"Everybody down there has gotten big outs for us in this series," Breslow said.
As for facing Beltran?
"He's an incredibly talented hitter, one that I'm going to rely on advance reports and video to come up with a plan of attack," he said. "But I also think to focus on him more than anyone else could potentially be foolish given I will likely face a few different guys at some point during this series."
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino vs. Yadier Molina
Boston's 1-2 hitters, Ellsbury and Victorino combined to steal 73 bases in 80 attempts during the regular season. And at one point, the Red Sox as a team had a streak of 45 consecutive successful stolen base attempts.
But lurking behind the plate is the Cardinals' five-time All-Star catcher, Yadier Molina, considered by many the best overall defensive catcher in baseball.
During the regular season, he ranked second in the majors in caught stealing percentage (.435), throwing out 20 of the 46 runners who tried to steal on him.
Molina says it's a team effort with the pitching staff. "We're doing a good job holding runners on," he said. "We know that Jacoby is a great runner. He's got great speed. But at the same time we know if we do get him out at the plate, he's never going to get on base."
He has a point. Ellsbury is swinging the hottest bat on either team with 16 hits, 10 runs and a .400 average in the postseason.
Despite Molina's excellence, the Red Sox aren't going to alter their game plan.
"We can't allow him to shut us down because just of who he is," Boston outfielder Quintin Berry said. "We understand that he's a great catcher, and all the respect in the world, but we got to play our game. That's what we're going to try to do."
Adds Victorino: "He's got accuracy. He does it all behind the plate. But you know, I'm not going to worry about that. If I go into the game with the mind-set that he's immortal or that he's that good, then I'm already doubting myself. I won't ever go with that kind of attitude."
Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal vs. Red Sox hitters
Wacha, the Cardinals' 22-year-old rookie right-hander, has been the breakout star of the postseason — he has won all three starts, allowing one run in 21 innings — and is set to start in Games 2 and, if necessary, 6.
He was named MVP of the National League Championship Series after holding the Los Angeles Dodgers scoreless for 132/3 innings in two starts.
Rosenthal, 23, took over as the Cardinals' closer in the final days of the regular season and has pitched seven scoreless postseason innings, striking out nine.
The Red Sox, according to FanGraphs.com, were the best fastball-hitting team in the major leagues. Will they be the team that can finally solve Wacha and Rosenthal?
"They have a great lineup from top to bottom," Rosenthal said. "There are no weak spots."
And they most definitely won't be intimidated by a pair of young arms.
"You can see their poise," Ellsbury said. "They have a lot of young pitchers who have pitched tremendous in the postseason. It's gonna be a battle for us once again. We're up to the challenge."
Koji Uehara vs. fatigue
The 38-year-old right-hander has been a revelation as Boston's closer since taking over the job in June.
Uehara was spectacular against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, recording a win and three saves, which earned him MVP honors. In six innings, he allowed four hits and struck out nine.
But Uehara has been asked to get at least four outs in seven of his last 14 saves, dating to Aug. 24, and admitted after the clinching game of the ALCS that he was tired.
"I feel like I need to go to sleep for a long time," he said with a smile.