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Time for Red Sox to put Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on the trading block

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  July 9, 2012 09:37 AM

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The New York Yankees were without their ace, C.C. Sabathia, and so now we can say it definitively and without any hesitation: the Red Sox simply do not have an answer. Not for Sabathia and, apparently, not for anyone else.

What the Red Sox can do about this should be the focus of all internal discussions approaching the annual July 31 trading deadline.

Possessors of a 40-35 record roughly 10 days ago, the Red Sox limped into the All-Star break late Sunday night on the heels of a 7-3 defeat to the Yankees at Fenway Park. With loss, the Sox dropped to a perfectly mediocre 43-43. But before we make this too much of a big-picture issue, let's focus on the two men who absolutely needed to step up in the weekend series against New York and who jointly fell on their faces.

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

Here's the most meaningful statistic of this Red Sox season to date, folks: the Red Sox are 12-20 in games started by the men who should be their two best starting pitchers. Were the Sox even, say, 16-16 in those games, they would be in possession of that suddenly coveted fifth-best record in the American League. And if they were, say, something more like the 20-12 they should be, they would be 51-35, nipping at the heels of the Yankees for the far more desirable lead in the AL East.

Please, no whining about run support, of which Beckett (27th among 41 qualifying AL starters) and Lester (28th) have had relatively little. Front-end starters, particularly those in big markets, are paid to win the lower-scoring games. Beckett and Lester also rank 28th and 30th among the same 41 pitchers in ERA, making it all the more curious that the Sox would allow chicken-fried running mate John Lackey to be joining the team on road trips despite the fact that he will not pitch for at least the majority of this season.

Know who ranks last in the American League in run support? Detroit Tigers righthander Justin Verlander, who is nonetheless 9-5. The Tigers are 11-7 in his starts. Verlander is 29, just three years younger than Beckett, one year older than Lester.

In the series against the Yankees, Beckett (five innings) and Lester (4.1) combined for a whopping 28 outs, barely pitching an entire game between them. The former was matched against Hiroki Kuroda, the latter against Ivan Nova. The Sox went 0-2 in those affairs and are 1-5 against the Yankees overall, with only Felix Doubront hanging around long enough to claim a victory.

Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross was speaking for te whole team when he offered his overall assessment of the first half following Sunday night's nationally-televised defeat, but let's hope Beckett and Lester were paying special attention.

“I think we have to look ourselves in the mirror and play with more energy,’’ Ross told reporters after the game. “We got our butts kicked, so it’ll be nice to have these days off and regroup.

“It was an up-and-down first half, that’s for sure. We played really poorly at times and really good at times. Really couldn’t be consistent, but we’ll try to put this first half behind and figure it out in the second.’’

Really couldn't be consistent. In the purest sense, isn't that the definition of mediocrity? But at least men like Ross, Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava have excuses. So do many others. None of those men were expected to be (or are paid to be) high-end performers and roster cornerstones. Beckett and Lester are supposed to be anchors for the Boston pitching staff, not men who can't make it beyond the fifth inning against the chief rival in the division.

Weak. Weak, weak, weak. If Ben Cherington and the Red Sox are smart - and assuming they are not doing so already - they should be exploring any and all deals for either Beckett or Lester (but not both) as we approach the trading deadline set for the end of this month. Lester is obviously the more desirable to keep, but he would probably fetch more in return.

Entering the weekend's series against the Yankees, the importance for the Red Sox was clear. The Sox trailed the Yankees by 7 1/2 games in the division. They were coming off a bad road trip. They had Beckett and Lester lined up to pitch the series opener and finale, and New York was without both Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, who have been arguably the team's two best starters. Add in the relative desperation with which the Sox were (allegedly) playing, and the factors were in place for a productive Red Sox weekend.

Instead, the opposite happened, neither Beckett nor Lester (nor anyone else for that matter) were capable of enduring even the first inning without digging the Red Sox a hole.

Nearly four years ago, following the 2008 season, Sabathia was a free agent. The Red Sox expressed little or no real interest at the time, partly because their pitching was in good shape, partly because they had concerns over Sabathia's knees. The Yankees subsequently signed Sabathia and then re-signed him three years later, all because the Yankees recognized they needed a truc ace at the front of their rotation.

In 2009, Sabathia's first season in New York, the Yankees went 22-12 in Sabathia's 34 starts, then won the World Series. In the next two seasons, they went 23-11 and 22-11. This year, they are 11-4. Add it all up and the Yankees are 78-38 in Sabathia's 116 career starts with the team, the kind of winning percentage a team should have anytime a true, front-end starter takes the mound.

Again, with Beckett or Lester starting, the Red Sox this season are 12-20.

Sooner or later, somehow, the Red Sox really need to do something about that.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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