Cardinals hitters vs.
Red Sox' bullpen:
Red Sox closer Keith Foulke has pitched himself into Mariano Rivera territory this month, to the point where Boston knows it can rely on him for six outs (or more) any time it needs him. Foulke has been unbeatable -- he has not been scored on in seven postseason appearances -- and durable: He threw over 100 pitches in a 48-hour span against the Yankees.
The Cardinals' well-balanced lineup will be this bullpen's toughest challenge yet. How well the Red Sox' bullpen navigates the stretch from No. 2 hitter Larry Walker through No. 5 hitter Jim Edmonds -- with Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen in between -- could decide this series.
Foulke's main set-up men, lefty Alan Embree and right-hander Mike Timlin, led the Red Sox' dominating bullpen performance in the final four games of the ALCS -- which included a stretch in which Boston relievers gave up only one earned run in 142/3 innings.
Lefty matchup specialist Mike Myers will be used to face Walker and/or Edmonds late in games. If mop-up men Ramiro Mendoza or Curtis Leskanic see action, it will be a bad sign.
The wild card is Bronson Arroyo, who was very effective after Boston shifted him to the bullpen mid-ALCS. If he is able to give them a couple of easy innings every couple of games, this bullpen looks nearly unbeatable.
Red Sox hitters vs.
The Cardinals tried to turn Jason Isringhausen into a two-inning closer in the NLCS -- even though he had not converted a six-out save during the regular season in more than two years -- with decidedly mediocre results: He blew one save and gave up Jeff Kent's game-winning homer in Game 5.
If right-hander Julian Tavarez (broken left hand) and left-hander Steve Kline (torn tendon in left index finger) are available, expect them to go to a true set-up system in the late innings, with Isringhausen pitching one inning at a time.
The Red Sox' wicked deep lineup is balanced enough -- with plenty of firepower on both sides of the plate, plus switch hitters Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller -- to thwart Tony La Russa's attempts to play matchup percentages late in games. However, the Cardinals have two lefties -- Ray King and Kline -- to combat David Ortiz, Boston's postseason slugging machine. Don't be surprised if Ortiz (who hit .250 this year against lefties) never faces a right-hander after the seventh inning in any game.
On the right side, Tavarez -- who has pitched tremendously since breaking his hand in a fit of rage during Game 4 of the NLCS -- is joined by Kiko Calero, who can be unhittable. Dan Haren provides the comfort of a dependable long man should one of St. Louis's starters flame out early.