Is there any doubt that Sunday’s Jake Peavy-Josh Beckett matchup is a preview of what we’re going to get at the All-Star Game?
Peavy (9-1, 1.98 ERA) probably should be the guy for the National League, but with all due respect for the phenomenal season Beckett (10-1, 3.14 ERA) is having for the Red Sox, Jim Leyland has more than one obvious option for the American League.
Last month, the Tigers skipper did admit that if he had to choose then, he’d tab Beckett to get the start in San Francisco on July 10. That was the same week the hurler went on the DL with an “avulsion,” since which time he had returned to post a 3-1 mark, hardly skipping a beat but for the one hiccup last week against the Rockies.
But never mind that Leyland has enough of a challenge even choosing between his own two aces -- the 9-2 Justin Verlander and the 8-0 Jeremy Bonderman -- for the honor, how about considering the Pedro-like season that Dan Haren is having in Oakland (9-2, 1.78 ERA), particularly with the All-Star Game being played across the Bay? What about Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia (10-2, 3.34 ERA) or the Angels’ John Lackey (10-4, 2.96 ERA), the only other two major league pitchers other than Beckett to have thus far put up double digit wins?
It’s no slam dunk in the NL either, although Peavy indeed deserves the honor. The Dodgers’ Brad Penny (9-1, 2.12 ERA) and Atlanta’s John Smotlz (8-3, 2.84 ERA) could indeed lay claim, but this is the breakout season people have been waiting for from Peavy, particularly after last year’s unimpressive campaign. And yes, the one or two of you who still might be steadfastly denying the very thought of it, this is why you would have traded Mike Lowell for Peavy straight up if last summer’s controversial trade topic actually had any base in reality.
Oh, and that bit about Peavy being aided by the pitcher’s park that is Petco? He’s 4-0 on the road with a -- ready? -- 0.88 ERA. That’s ungodly. It includes shutout wins at San Francisco, Miami, and Tampa. He threw seven two-hit, shutout innings at Arizona and left with a no-decision. The one run he allowed on the road came in a 7-2 win over the Dodgers in April.
The worst thing that can be said about Peavy is that he’s struggled a bit this month, allowing 10 earned runs over 26 2/3 innings, and watching his ERA skyrocket from 1.47 to 1.98. Right, the sky isn’t exactly falling.
Like Peavy, Beckett has been nasty on the road, where he’s 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, and will benefit in Sunday’s showdown from the vast landscape of Petco Park. The Padres’ home has the lowest park factor -- an equation that ESPN.com comes to with a formula of ((homeRS + homeRA)/(homeG)) / ((roadRS + roadRA)/(roadG)) -- in the majors, just .827, which has certainly aided San Diego’s dominant pitching staff. Fenway is number one, by the way, at 1.336, a place that Beckett’s home ERA jumps nearly 2˝ runs (4.22) from the road number.
Of course, it was only by Curt Schilling’s well-timed trip to the DL that this mano y mano was even possible. Schilling’s absence meant that Beckett was pushed up a day to pitch Sunday -- on normal rest -- and give us what is surely to be the highlight of this weekend’s Sox-Padres series in San Diego. And tonight, mind you, it’s only Daisuke Matsuzaka (1.80 ERA in the month of June) vs. Greg Maddux, who’s not what he used to be, but he’s not too far off either at the age of 41.
I’ll give interleague baseball this: It’s not often that you can watch two potential starters for the All-Star Game -- and yes, some are even thinking World Series -- go head-to-head more than a fortnight before the Midsummer Classic even takes place.
Still, the odds are that Haren will get the AL nod, deservedly so, which doesn’t so much dilute the potential for drama in SoCal this weekend as it does serve as a reminder just what a darned good arsenal of pitching there is out there in the league this season. We're nearly halfway though the season and there are no fewer than seven pitchers in each league who are worthy of winning the Cy Young Award. This weekend alone will serve up three of the best hurlers in the game (Beckett, Peavy, and Chris Young), a pair of veterans (Maddux and Tim Wakefield), and an international phenomenon in Matsuzaka who seems to be grasping the American League hitters at a much faster pace than anticipated.
And yet, Fox will show Yankees-Giants nationally tomorrow afternoon. Compelling.
Matsuzaka will also be returning to the scene where he announced himself to the western world, winning the MVP of Bud Selig’s World Baseball Classic after Japan’s clinching win in San Diego last spring. And with a little bit of luck, he’ll return there in four short months for the Classic that matters.
Oh, Detroit, Cleveland, or Los Angeles would do just fine for many people without provincial ties I suppose, but is there a National League team you want to watch in the World Series more than the Padres?
The Red Sox employees would certainly enjoy it, as it would mean another free trip out west come October. Think of the intriguing possibilities though. Beckett vs. Peavy. David Wells vs. Curt Schilling. Cla Meredith vs. Terry Francona. Kevin Towers vs. Doug Mirabelli. Forget the Yankees, we need more of these guys on the schedule.
Which is why I think Sox fans will be just fine to watch Beckett surrender the All-Star hill to Haren. Besides, if he leads the AL to victory, just think, the next Peavy-Beckett showdown could take place in the Fens, where the Red Sox would have home-field advantage.
But that's what they call getting ahead of ourselves. For now, Sunday will do nicely.