Well, it's official. Josh Beckett is no ace.
This isn't to say that Beckett isn't going to be a fine major league pitcher, because I think we've all seen enough flashes to understand that this is likely the case. But as of right now, he is nothing but an uncertainty on the mound, a pitcher delivering less than average results without a whiff of the tenacity everyone insisted was the trait that would define his competitive fire.
But while dependability may very well be in his future, he's shown nothing to suggest that he's ready or capable of being an ace.
B-b-b-ut he beat the Yankees in the World Series.
That's great. And since?
The Red Sox, facing the most crucial stretch of the season, asked Josh Beckett to step it up last night against Detroit, hoped he could lead Boston to start on the right foot in a two-week period that will either make or break them as contenders.
That hope lasted all of seconds. Instead, he wasn't even finished following through on his first pitch of the game when Curtis Granderson laced it into right field for a triple.
There was one thing obscenely evident in the first inning, when the Tigers scored three times off Beckett: Detroit was going to be aggressive as it took to end its five-game losing streak. And Beckett, well, there are only so many times you can say he needs to "step it up" before you can conclude it's not going to happen.
Everyone loves to point out he dominant he was in the 2003 World Series, so much so that it has become a sort of quasi-excuse for when he fails to get the job done. Beckett looked terrible in the first three innings last night, unable to spot his changeup, though he wasn't helped in the matter at all by catcher Javy Lopez, who makes Jake Taylor look spry behind the plate. At times this season, he has resembled the pitcher who beat the Yankees that October, but not enough and certainly not lately.
The guy who started the season 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his first three starts has officially imploded, winless since late July. If he doesn't win this weekend against the Yankees, he will have gone an entire month between victories. One month. And this is the guy who is your No. 2 on a $125 million World Series hopeful.
We all heard about his toughness, his emotion on the mound. Remember the whole Ryan Howard thing in spring training? Has Beckett even done so much as grit his teeth since then?
Last night's loss dropped him to 0-2 on the month with a stratospheric 7.00 ERA. The opposition is hitting .307 against him in August, the month the team most needs him to deliver. Instead, Beckett has been at his worst.
Beckett has historically been better in the second half of the season, but that's simply not the case in 2006. After an 11-4 start, he's just 2-3 since the All-Star break. He dominated Kansas City for one of those wins, the same day he got his big contract. He's won once since then.
If Boston doesn't make the playoffs this season, a situation that many fans are starting to admit looks likely at this juncture, there's plenty of blame, cause, and concern to toss around, but much of it might as well be tossed in Beckett's direction. Yes, he's just 26, and his best days may be still ahead of him. But when Beckett has been hit this season, the bleeding doesn't end. Eight times this season Beckett has allowed five or more runs, five times he's allowed seven or more, which puts him more in the company of Jason Johnson than Curt Schilling, the guy everybody seems to want to groom him to be. That is perhaps a most concerning stat in that it illustrates that when Beckett isn't at his best, there is no settling down.
To get to the postseason, most assume it will take at least 95 wins for Boston. That means, in its final 45 games, the Red Sox will have to go 27-18, despite playing at a pace of a game under .500 since the All-Star break. That would suggest Beckett will get 8-9 more starts down the stretch, each meaning more than the last. But based on what we've seen from him, there has to be serious doubt he could carry such a load.
The problem is, with Schilling going tonight, the Red Sox don't even know what to expect anymore from their No. 1 guy either. While he's been their most consistent starter all season, something has happened since the Angels teed off on him at Fenway Park a couple of weeks back. In that game, Angels batters were swinging from their heels, almost as if they knew what was coming out of Schilling's hand. He rebounded in Tampa, but gave up a record nine doubles to the Royals in a loss last week and sports a 6.05 ERA over his last three starts.
But unless his ankle is bothering him (and good luck getting an affirmative answer if that is the case), there's a little leeway in being concerned with Schilling based on resume. With Beckett, that's not the case, and there seems to be a litany of excuses laid out for him already.
He beat the Yankees in the World Series. He's young. He's adjusting to the league.
That's all well and fine, but when the Red Sox don't make the playoffs, perhaps Beckett can take a long, hard look at himself during the offseason and finally decide what kind of pitcher he wants to be: An overrated hurler who never met his overall potential or the true ace of a World Series contending staff. Guys like Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver don't seem to have had any trouble putting it together as rookies. Why do we continually make excuses for Beckett?
We keep waiting, knowing he's better than this.
Assuming he's better than this.
Hoping he's better than this.
But we sure haven't seen it yet.
Josh Beckett an ace? Uh, no.
And time's running out if he wants to change that distinction.