Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pivotal juncture for Beckett, Sox - By Trevor Hass

Last year a Josh Beckett vs. Justin Verlander showdown would have featured two of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.  This year, while Verlander has continued to excel, Beckett’s ERA has consistently hovered around 4.50 and his record has dipped to a pedestrian 5-9.
Just one year ago he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA and was the undisputed ace of a loaded Red Sox staff while flirting with Cy Young contention.  Since then, however, it’s been all downhill.  After the fried chicken and clubhouse drinking kerfuffle and a late-season drop off amidst a team-wide debacle, Beckett finds his name blazoned all over NESN, Twitter and the likes for all the wrong reasons. 
His future with the team is in question as the Sox decide whether to be buyers, sellers or remain quiet.  Trade rumors are rising as Beckett’s ERA does the same. 
The 3 p.m. deadline is rapidly approaching like an Aroldis Chapman fastball, as Sox fans wait impatiently, twiddling their thumbs and refreshing ESPN.com.  Fans will question Ben Cherington and company’s decision to keep or trade Beckett regardless of what the GM decides to do.
Option A is to get rid of Beckett and his hefty contract in exchange for two or three young prospects and cash.  Option B is to keep Beckett and pray to the baseball Gods that he returns to 2011 form.
What makes this situation slightly unusual is that the decision will be immediately justified or questioned based on Beckett’s performance tonight.
            The stage is set.  Winners of three in a row, the Sox’ playoff hopes are starting to look slightly more promising, yet every time the team shows signs of a turnaround, something goes wrong.  When Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford came back from lengthy stints on the DL, David Ortiz went down with an Achilles injury. 
One game above .500 with August essentially here, it’s make or break time for the topsy-turvy, always fluctuating Sox.  While the offense has been potent and consistent, the main area of concern is starting pitching.  Clay Buchholz pitched a gem of a game last night as the Sox picked up a 7-3 win over the Tigers.  Now it’s Beckett’s turn.
The Red Sox are 1-7 in Beckett’s last eight starts.  He has given up 19 first inning runs in 17 starts this season.  In his last outing against the Rangers he gave up four runs on nine hits and needed 114 pitches to get through seven tumultuous innings.  The numbers speak for themselves.
            If Beckett is still a Red Sox a few hours from now (which it looks like he will be), he’ll be on the hot seat to produce.  An X-factor for the Sox’ chances at a playoff push, all eyes will be on Josh Beckett tonight at Fenway. 
            He doesn’t need to be Justin Verlander.  He doesn’t need to post Cy Young numbers.  He just needs to pitch well enough to get the Red Sox a win.   Otherwise, Cherington will be wishing he was Bill Murray from Groundhog day and it will be a long winter in Boston if Beckett doesn’t find himself.

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