Beckett to the rescue?

If the reeling Red Sox have one thing going for them, it’s that Josh Beckett will start on the mound tonight against the Yankees. The Sox are suddenly crumbling, and no player is more capable of patching things together for one night than Beckett, the pitcher Mark Teixeira last night called “the best pitcher in the American League right now.”

At a time when nothing is assured for the Red Sox, Beckett should provide a sturdy force. Since May 1, Beckett’s ERA is 2.28, the best in American League over that span. He’s coming off seven shutout innings in Baltimore.

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Tonight gets more difficult, of course. He’ll face, as Terry Francona said last night, “an unforgiving lineup in an unforgiving park.” In his first start at Yankee Stadium this season, back on May 5, Beckett grinded for a win. He allowed 10 hits, a walk, and a home run, but kept the damage to three runs over six innings. At Fenway Park against the Yankees on June 9, Beckett one-hit the Yanks over six shutout innings as the Sox cruised to a win.

Yankee Stadium devours pitchers who struggle against lefties, and Beckett has had success against them this season. He’s better against righties, but lefties have hit .252 and slugged .364 off of Beckett this season. His best attribute facing lefties, seemingly, is that he won’t give in. In 305 at-bats against lefties, Beckett has allowed five home runs, the same number he’s surrendered to righthanders in 230 at-bats.

New York’s lineup presents a few tough outs for Beckett. Robinson Cano is hitting .342 and slugging .605 against Beckett in 38 career at-bats, and Melky Cabrera is batting .343 in 35 career at-bats against Beckett. Alex Rodriguez is 11 for 36 (.306) with three doubles and a home run.

Beckett’s dominance amid his team’s floundering raises another point — if the Red Sox can’t straighten out their other issues, will they waste Beckett’s season? He’s having perhaps the best year of his career, almost identical to 2007, when he finished second in the Cy Young voting. Compare:

YEAR ERA WHIP ERA+ SO/9 BB/9 HR/9 WIN%
2007 3.27 1.141 145 8.7 1.8 0.8 .741 (20-7)
2009 3.27 1.147 144 8.3 2.5 0.6 .765 (13-4)
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Beckett is at his best. The Red Sox are at their worst. Can Beckett keep the former going and change the latter?

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