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Quality wins but tough stretch looms for Red Sox

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  May 16, 2012 10:12 AM

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Josh Beckett's three wins this season have come against teams that are a combined 49-52. Take away the April victory against the Tampa Bay Rays, and that record is 26-48 (Minnesota, Seattle).

That's one way to look at Beckett's bumpy season thus far. It's something else to point out that after yesterday's stellar outing against the Quadruple A Seattle Mariners, Beckett now has five quality starts on the season. That's the same amount as Jon Lester, James Shields, and David Price. It's also the same amount as Bartolo Colon and Bruce Chen. Derek Lowe, Jake Peavy, and Henderson Alvarez each have seven; five others have six.

As many have noted, Beckett's velocity is down this season, and the fact that he is inconsistent on the mound isn't exactly a revelation. Save for 2007, Red Sox fans are generally confused about what to expect out of the hurler, who can look like Peavy one start and Chen the next. 

He hasn't been there in a while, but for all the postseason praise he receives; does anyone actually realize that he's allowed 18 earned runs over his last 21 innings of playoff work? Last season he faltered down the stretch. As he gets older, are those signs of running out of steam, or a lack of conditioning? 

After last week's deplorable evening at Fenway Park, Beckett was kicked around town with a vigor usually saved for a Yankee. Yesterday's performance against the Mariners (seven innings, four hits, no runs) probably saved him some face in the eyes of a furious fanbase, and gave fuel to his BBWAA PR firm who treated the notion of putting Beckett on the trade market as "sophomoric." After all, the Red Sox have never had a history for eating money when somebody became either a problem in the clubhouse or a non-factor on the field.

They only put Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers.

They traded Manny Ramirez following the Jack McCormick incident.

They paid the Braves to take Edgar Renteria off their hands. Ditto, Julio Lugo and the Cardinals.

They traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs.

Clearly, to suggest trading Josh Beckett is a ridiculous notion.

Maybe last night's results put an end to such sophomoric ideas, but the Red Sox are still behind the win pace set a year ago (21-20 on May 16), when it took playing at an epic clip all summer only to...well, you know. 

Does Bobby V's version have anywhere close to that sort of winning drive, especially as the schedule heats up and moves away from the Oakland and Seattle pushovers of the league?

They probably have about six weeks to figure it out, after which players become commodities. Kevin Youkilis may have even less time than that in Boston with the emergence of Will Middlebrooks. Then it's time to start making the really tough decisions should things not turn around.

What can you get for David Ortiz? How confident are you in signing Jacoby Ellsbury, and would he be available? And at the top of your rotation, you have perhaps an expensive chip that would cost you to unload, but one who could bring some value in return.

Because if the Red Sox are willing to eat some cash, teams should be knocking down their door for a guy like Beckett, right? Any team would be lucky to have a competitor like that, which is why the thought of trading him with those dollars is nonsense.

Sorry. Got caught up in my Beckett PR machine handbook.

This is a pivotal stretch for the Red Sox, beginning tonight in Tampa. After winning five in a row, they have started to prove that they maybe - maybe could get back into the thick of things. They proved the same a season ago.

Ultimately, they couldn't stay there though, and it will be fascinating to see what, if anything, is different a year later. 

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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