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Tag:Josh Beckett
Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:25 pm
 

Disaster looms; blame Beckett (and Lester)

BALTIMORE -- If you don't pitch, it doesn't matter how good you feel. Doesn't matter how relaxed you are.

If your aces don't pitch, you're in serious trouble.

The Red Sox, once again, are in serious trouble, after Monday night's 6-3 loss to the Orioles. A wild-card lead that was nine games just 23 days ago has now totally disappeared, after Boston's loss and the Rays' 5-2 win over the Yankees.

All tied up, with two games to play.

Disaster looms once again for the Sox, and if you want to blame anyone, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are available.

It was Beckett who started -- and lost -- Monday. But this disaster doesn't belong to just one guy. Right now, the two biggest culprits are the two biggest starters.

When September began, someone using my name wrote that the difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees was that Boston had two top-of-the-rotation starters and New York had just one.

OK, I'll confess, it was me. And I'll admit it, I was wrong.

The last two times through the rotation, when the Red Sox needed Beckett and Lester the most, the two have combined to go 0-4 with a 9.39 ERA.

0-4, 9.39.

That's worse than John Lackey -- who, after his performance Sunday night (in-game, not postgame), is now Boston's most effective starter.

Lackey, Jacoby Ellsbury and the bullpen really did give the Sox a lift with Sunday's win. The pregame atmosphere in the Red Sox clubhouse Monday afternoon felt nothing like the weekend atmosphere in New York, or last week's at Fenway.

Sure enough, the Red Sox took a second-inning lead Monday night, just the second time in the last 13 games they'd scored first. Even when Beckett gave the run back in the bottom of the second, the Red Sox went back ahead in the fourth.

But on a night where they really needed Beckett to pitch like an ace, he turned the fifth and sixth into two innings of Red Sox misery.

When Robert Andino -- remember him? -- hit the first Orioles' inside-the-park home run in Camden Yards history (that's 20 years of history), the Red Sox were down four runs.

Andino's blast went off Ellsbury's glove in center field, but it would have been a spectacular catch, as he crashed into the fence. The blame goes to the guy who served up the blast, not the guy who nearly caught it.

It didn't help that the Sox didn't score after Jed Lowrie's go-ahead home run in the fourth. But this one was on Beckett, without doubt.

And the Red Sox' season now rests on the shaky Erik Bedard, who starts Tuesday, and then on Lester, now certain to come back Wednesday on short rest.

Normally, the Sox would feel good relying on Lester. They felt good relying on Beckett Monday.

Good feelings don't last around here. Right now, that should be obvious.

Posted on: September 16, 2011 10:43 pm
 

Beckett, Bard give Red Sox reason to believe

BOSTON -- If Thursday was about reasons to believe for the Rays, Friday was about reasons to believe for the Red Sox.

Reason No. 1: Josh Beckett, back after missing a start with an ankle injury, gave up just two earned runs in six excruciating but encouraging innings.

Reason No. 2: Daniel Bard, back after losing each of his last three appearances, struck out three in a much, much better eighth inning.

Reason No. 3: A 4-3 Red Sox win over the Rays that extended Boston's lead back to four games in the American League wild-card race, with now just 12 games left on the schedule (and just two more head-to-head meetings).

Now, no matter how much belief the Rays have, they basically need to win both Saturday and Sunday to have any realistic chance at catching the Red Sox. And even that might not be enough.

Short-term, that's the most important Red Sox development from Friday night. Long-term, it's Beckett and Bard that are crucial for the Red Sox to believe they have any chance in the playoffs.

Without Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, the Red Sox have who -- maybe John Lackey and his 6.19 ERA? -- as a No. 2 starter. Without Bard, the Red Sox have questions about the back end of their bullpen.

Beckett allowed a two-run first-inning home run to Evan Longoria, but beyond that he gave up just an unearned run in the third. More than that, the ankle didn't seem to be a problem.

Bard got a break on a disputed call for his first strikeout, but after a one-out walk he fanned the next two batters impressively.

Friday wasn't perfect for either Beckett or Bard, but at least Friday gave them -- and the Red Sox and their fans -- some reason to believe.


Category: MLB
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am
 

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.


Posted on: September 15, 2011 10:36 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 12:25 am
 

Do the Rays have a chance? Sure they do

BOSTON -- Do they have a chance?

Yeah, they have a chance.

Do they have a good chance?

Ask again tomorrow.

The Rays looked great Thursday night in winning the opener of their four-game must-win series in Boston, holding the Red Sox to six hits in a 9-2 rout. Boston's lead in the American League wild-card race, which was nine games on the morning of Sept. 3, is now down to three games just 13 days later.

With 13 games remaining in the season -- including three more games this weekend -- of course the Rays have a chance.

And if they beat Josh Beckett on Friday night -- and especially if Beckett doesn't look fully recovered from the ankle injury that cost him a start last week -- then you might say the Rays have a good chance in their improbable run at a playoff spot.

A run, by the way, that they don't consider that improbable.

"I think this is what we expected from the first day of spring training, to be in this race," Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said Thursday afternoon.

They believe they can win, and they believe they can beat the Red Sox head-to-head, at Fenway Park.

They should. The Rays have won 18 of their last 29 games at Fenway, dating back to 2008 and including the American League Championship Series that year.

This season, the Rays have beaten the Red Sox 10 times in 15 games, and they've now won six in a row.

"Against us, their pitchers have a plan, and they follow through on it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They're a hard team to play."

The Red Sox are something of a mess right now. Their lineup is beat up, to the point where Francona said Thursday night that third baseman Kevin Youkilis (hip and sports hernia) won't play Friday.

The starting rotation is worse. The Red Sox had to start rookie Kyle Weiland on Thursday, and he didn't make it out of the third inning. They'll start struggling Tim Wakefield in the final game of the series Sunday.

Compare that to the Rays, who are able to run a solid starter out there every night. Thursday, it was Jeremy Hellickson, a 13-game winner who may well be the American League rookie of the year. Friday, against Beckett, it will be James Shields, who leads the majors with 11 complete games and gave up one run in 8 1/3 innings against the Red Sox last weekend in Florida.

But that's what the Rays are, and that's how they've managed to get this far, after losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and their entire bullpen off last year's division winners. They pitch, they play defense, and sometimes, they hit enough.


Posted on: September 11, 2011 10:10 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Let's panic! edition

In the September without pennant races, something strange is developing.

Pennant races.

Real, live pennant races. The kind of races that get you excited, if your team is doing the chasing, or make you nervous, if your team is trying to hold on.

The kind of races that make you . . .

"Hell yeah, you've got to panic," David Ortiz told reporters Sunday, after his Red Sox were swept by the Rays to shrink their wild-card lead to just 3 1/2 games (with the Rays coming to Boston this week for four games).

Panic!

They know the feeling in Texas, where the Rangers once led the Angels by seven games, but were just 1 1/2 games up as of Sunday morning (and back to 2 1/2 games as of Sunday night).

They're starting to feel it in Atlanta, where the Braves once led the wild card by nine games, then ended a bad week with just a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals.

And yes, they know it in Boston, where they panicked at 0-6, and at 2-10. Yeah, they're going to panic, now that one more week like the last one would see them looking up at the Rays in the standings.

Eight days ago, the computers at coolstandings.com said the Sox were 99.6 percent sure to make the playoffs. Now, after seven losses in eight games (including three straight to the Rays), those same (panicking) computers dropped it to 88.2 percent.

Frank Wren knows the feeling. The Braves general manager said he was watching those computer readings a year ago, watching them drop from 95.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

The Braves did make the playoffs, although their spot wasn't guaranteed until the Giants beat the Padres on the final day of the season, three hours after the Braves played their last scheduled game.

It made for a fantastic final weekend, even if it also made for a lot of nervous moments for Wren and for Braves fans.

For baseball's sake, the best thing that can happen now is that the Red Sox-Rays race goes to the final weekend, that the Rangers-Angels race comes down to the two teams' three-game series in Anaheim the final three days of the season, and maybe even that the Cardinals get close enough for the Braves to shout, "Panic!"

Too much to hope for?

Maybe so, but on Labor Day, even one pennant race seemed too much to hope for.

This was the September without pennant races . . . until it wasn't.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Since June 29, the Angels are 16-0 when they've started Jered Weaver or Dan Haren in a home game. That's nice, but it doesn't exactly help them this week, with neither Weaver nor Haren starting in a three-game series -- on the road -- in Oakland. The Angels begin a 10-game trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto with Angels at A's, Monday night (10:05 ET) at the Coliseum, with Joel Pineiro on the mound. The last time the Angels were in Oakland, they lost three of four, allowing the Rangers to increase their AL West lead from 1 1/2 games to four games.

2. Should the Braves be worried that they have rookies starting all three games of the series that ends with Marlins at Braves, Wednesday afternoon (12:05 ET) at Turner Field? Not necessarily. The Braves have lost eight of their last 11, but all three wins in that stretch were started by rookies, including one by Randall Delgado, who starts Wednesday against the Marlins.

3. The Cardinals don't have any games remaining against the Braves (or against the Brewers, who they trail by six games in the NL Central). The Rangers and Angels don't meet until the final three games of the season, by which point we'll either have tons of drama or none of it. But the Rays are in Boston this week, for four games beginning with Rays at Red Sox, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Unless Tampa Bay stumbles badly in three games before that in Baltimore (and even then, only if the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays at home), this weekend should be interesting. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and David Price set to go in the series. The Red Sox haven't even announced their starter for Thursday yet, and still don't know whether Josh Beckett will pitch in the series. One last thing to think about (for now) on Rays-Red Sox: If this race goes to the final six days of the season, the Yankees could have a big impact on it, with three games at home against the Sox followed by three at Tampa Bay. Imagine if the Red Sox need the Yankees to beat the Rays for them! Panic!
Posted on: September 2, 2011 12:41 am
Edited on: September 2, 2011 1:09 am
 

They proved little, but Yanks come away happy

BOSTON -- This was never going to be the defining week for the American League East superpowers.

Short of a major injury, nothing that happened was going to change the course of this season for either the Yankees or the Red Sox, and nothing was going to help much in deciding whether this year goes down as a success or failure.

More than eleven hours of baseball in three days, and they proved nothing?

Pretty much.

At least the Yankees can go away thinking they got something out of it. They got a series win over the Red Sox for the first time in five tries this year, they got a CC Sabathia win over Boston for the first time in five tries this year, and they scored some runs off Josh Beckett for the first time in five tries this year.

"I don't know how much it'll help us [down the road]," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "But you put good thoughts in your mind."

The Yankees would like you to think that Thursday's 4-2 win was a major turning point for troubled starter A.J. Burnett, and their comments Thursday night would strongly suggest that Burnett will make the cut (and that Phil Hughes will go to the bullpen) when they cut from six starters to five.

Burnett gave up two runs, got one out in the sixth inning, and left with two runners on base. But manager Joe Girardi used words like "great" and "outstanding" to describe his performance, and catcher Russell Martin insisted that Burnett "just looked like a different person."

Is it possible that Burnett, who in three years as a Yankee has never shown any ability to sustain success, could pitch so well in September that he could become a postseason factor?

Theoretically, he could. But how well would he need to pitch, and how many times, for the Yankees to feel any confidence in using him in a playoff game?

"It's one step," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "It's a good one. Give him a lot of credit."

Give the Yankees a little credit. They were the team that had more on the line in this series, and they were the team that got something out of it.

And the Red Sox?

It's not like these three games exposed any great weaknesses. They lost Tuesday because they left 16 runners on base, and they lost Thursday because Alfredo Aceves walked one batter and hit another, and Daniel Bard made a bad pitch to Martin (who turned it into a two-run double).

Even then, they loaded the bases in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, who had to throw his best pitch of the night to strike out Adrian Gonzalez to end the game.

"I don't think there's a team better than the other," Martin said. "Each day, it's going to be the team that plays the best in that game."

The Yankees were a small bit better on two days this week, the Red Sox on one.

Does that mean anything? Not really.

By October, this series will be long forgotten.

Posted on: August 31, 2011 11:39 pm
 

Biggest difference for Red Sox? It's Beckett

BOSTON -- The difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees isn't nearly as great as 11-3, as in 11 Red Sox wins in 14 meetings so far.

But there is a difference, a significant difference.

The Red Sox know who their top two starters are. The Yankees don't.

The Red Sox had Josh Beckett bounce back to his historic dominance this year. The Yankees had Phil Hughes regress to historic depths.

If the Red Sox have the Beckett of 2010 (6-6, 5.78), they're where the Yankees are, wondering who starts Game 2 behind Jon Lester the way the Yankees wonder who starts Game 2 behind CC Sabathia.

Instead, Boston has the Beckett who has started five wins in five starts against the Yankees, including Wednesday's 9-5 Red Sox win. Even on a night when he wasn't at his best (handed a three-run lead, he gave up four in the sixth) Beckett went seven innings and won.

Meanwhile, rescued from that early 4-1 deficit, Hughes quickly allowed two more runs and lost.

The Red Sox are now 19-7 when Beckett starts, and he has a 2.54 ERA that would be his best for a full season. In a year where John Lackey has been mostly bad, and where Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka have both been hurt, Beckett's return to brilliance is arguably the Red Sox's most significant development of the season.

"It's huge," manager Terry Francona said. "This is the guy we've relied on. We were hoping he'd come back with a vengeance, and he has. He's been so consistent."

Others attribute the turnaround to health, but Beckett talks more about executing pitches.

"I think that's what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or bad seasons," he said.

And if there's something that separates the Red Sox from the Yankees, it's Beckett having a good (or better than that) season.

"I'm a different pitcher now than I was at any time last year," he said, after becoming the first Red Sox pitcher in 24 years to get credit for four wins over the Yankees in one season.

So is Hughes, an 18-game winner in 2010 whose 6.75 ERA this year is the second worst ever for a Yankee who made as many as 12 starts (David Cone's 6.91 in 2000 was the only one worse).

If the Yankees keep Hughes in the rotation now, it's only because A.J. Burnett is even less reliable. If they use him in a playoff rotation, it would only be because Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia got hurt between now and then.

But as much discussion as there has been this week of how the Yankees go from six starters to five, the overriding question is still how they find someone they want to start behind Sabathia in October.

The Red Sox could ask the same question about their third starter, but they know Lester and Beckett (in one order or the other) go 1-2. That puts them a big step ahead of the Yankees.

They're not 11-3 ahead, no matter what the record in head-to-head meetings says.

They are ahead, thanks largely to Beckett, and that's a big deal.


Category: MLB
Posted on: August 28, 2011 8:49 pm
Edited on: August 28, 2011 9:03 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Yankees start in Boston edition

Of all the pitchers who have ever made 90 or more career starts for the Yankees, A.J. Burnett has the worst ERA (4.82).

Of all the pitchers who have ever started 11 or more games in a season for the Yankees, Phil Hughes has the seventh highest ERA (6.46).

Good thing the Yankees don't really need to beat the first-place Red Sox this week, with Hughes and Burnett starting two of the three games.

Oh, they'll tell you that they do. They'll talk about the importance of winning the American League East, and of home-field advantage in the playoffs.

But the real importance of this week, and the real importance of every other week until the playoffs begin, is for the Yankees to figure out which of their shaky starting pitchers they can possibly hope to rely on in October. Boston is a good place to try to start figuring, in part because the Red Sox may be the team the Yankees eventually need to beat, and also because in 12 games against the Red Sox this season (10 of them losses), Yankee starters have a 7.54 ERA.

At the moment, Burnett would seem the least reliable, given his 11.91 ERA and 1.142 opponents OPS (Jose Bautista leads all major-league hitters at 1.092) in August.

In fact, with manager Joe Girardi once again promising that the Yankees will go from a six-man rotation to a five-man rotation after the series in Boston, Burnett is the leading candidate to be dropped.

The Yankees would like to think that Hughes is less of a concern, given that in five straight appearances heading into last week, he had a 2.08 ERA. Then Hughes was awful against the light-hitting A's (2 2/3 innings, six runs), and followed it up with the strange comment, "Hopefully I won't face the A's again for a while."

Instead, his next start is against the Red Sox, who lead the majors in scoring.

Hughes should know that; in three appearances against Boston this year, he has a 16.20 ERA.

Even when Hughes had good numbers, scouts weren't overly impressed.

"He was better," said one scout who watched him in a good performance. "But that's not the same Phil Hughes from when he was really good."

Hughes starts Wednesday night. Burnett, 0-4 with an 8.71 ERA in eight starts for the Yankees against the Red Sox, starts Thursday.

So the Yankees might want to win the first game of the series, behind ace CC Sabathia, on Tuesday.

And that, if nothing else, will make this feel just like a Yankee playoff series.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Diamondbacks ended the weekend with a four-game lead in the National League West (their biggest yet), which means they're guaranteed to enter September -- and next weekend's big series in San Francisco -- in first place. First, they'll play three games against the Rockies -- the team that was supposed to be challenging the Giants -- beginning with Rockies at Diamondbacks, Monday night (9:40 ET) at Chase Field. Monday's game also features Alex White, one of the two pitchers the Rockies got in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.

2. At this point, it's probably worth pointing out that Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his four starts against the Red Sox this year, and also that his 4.95 ERA in August is easily his highest for any month this year. But there's no doubt that the Yankees trust Sabathia about 10 times more than they trust any of their other starters, so they'll expect him to win, in Yankees at Red Sox, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Sabathia faces the unreliable John Lackey, with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester going against Hughes and Burnett the next two nights.

3. The Yankees talk about home-field advantage, and it's true that they're 41-26 at Yankee Stadium this year. But that's nothing compared to the Brewers, who have a 50-16 home record, with 17 wins in their last 19 games. That record has helped the Brewers turn the National League Central into a runaway, and has greatly diminished the importance of this week's series against second-place St. Louis. The Brewer record for home wins in a season is 54, and they could get close in the series that ends with Cardinals at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Miller Park. Yovani Gallardo, who is 9-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 home starts, will be on the mound for the Brewers. One more thing about the Brewers: Despite playing in the smallest market in the majors, they'll sell their 3 miilionth ticket sometime this week.

 
 
 
 
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