The Red Sox are in the Bronx tonight facing the Yankees. Does anyone care? The Sox are still technically and mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but the surrender flag went up on the 2010 season a while ago for the Sox. So, the arch rivals meet at the Pinstripe Palace in what is essentially an anticlimactic series.Spare me the idea of the Sox playing spoiler. I'm sure that's not what ESPN had in mind when it booked "Sunday Night Baseball." It's a pretty safe bet that more folks around here will have their HDTVs tuned to the Patriots' AFC East competitors the Dolphins and the Jets square off on Sunday evening than listening to the dulcet tones of Jon Miller and the dull observations of Joe Morgan. If that's not enough to scare you off, it's a Daisuke Matsuzaka start.
This late September three-game set between the Sox and the Yanks kind of feels like the last week of the "Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." It's necessary but it's just cheapening the brand. However, there is some relevancy to the rivalry for the Red Sox. Here are three reasons not to tune out Sox-Yankees completely, starting with tonight's Sox starter, Josh Beckett.
Is Beckett back? The Yankees were Pedro Martinez's daddy and now they have Beckett crying uncle. It's imperative that he deliver a quality start against the Yankees. The erstwhile Sox ace has allowed five or more earned runs in all four of his starts against the Yankees this season, and has only made it past the fifth inning once. That accomplishment was mired by the fact Beckett was tagged for nine earned runs. Beckett's numbers against the Yankees are ghastly this season (0-2, 11.17 earned run average, .363 batting average against).
Beckett has never been the Yankee Killer he was billed as -- in 2006, his first season with the Sox, Beckett went 2-2 against the Yankees with a 9.45 ERA -- but the previous three seasons he went a combined 7-3 with a respectable 4.38 ERA against the Bronx Bombers.
Tonight's start against Andy Pettitte is an opportunity for Beckett to leave the Sox with a positive impression in a season that was derailed in part due to his injury and ineffectiveness. Beckett should view it as the first start of the 2011 season. It's a chance to restore the Nation's confidence in him a bit and remind us why the team was compelled to give him a four-year, $68-million extension.
Almost as important as showing he doesn't have some sort of psychological block against the Yankees is that Beckett needs to prove he still has the stuff to beat good teams. His five wins this season have come against the Kansas City, the Angels, Oakland, Cleveland and Seattle. Not exactly the Murders' Row of the American League.
Beckett has pitched better of late. He's pitched into the seventh inning while allowing three or fewer earned runs in each of his last five starts. If he can do that against the Yankees, it's a building block for next season. If he gets boxed around again then prepare for an offseason of Beckett angst.
20/20 vision for Jon Lester? If there is a poster child for why Epstein clings to prospects, it's Lester. Everyone was clamoring for the Sox to trade Lester for Johan Santana following the 2007 season. They didn't it, and with Santana having undergone shoulder surgery this month, it's the best move Epstein never made. No team in baseball would swap Lester for Santana now. Lester, who has already won a career-high 18 games, faces the Yankees tomorrow and has a chance to be the first Red Sox lefthander to win 20 games in a season since Mel Parnell went 25-7 in 1949.
Yes, wins are an overrated statistic for a pitcher (see Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who has eight losses this season in which he gave up three or fewer earned runs) but any time you can accomplish something that hasn't been done in more than 60 years it's noteworthy. Lester only has two more scheduled starts this season, so in order to pull off the feat he's going to have to beat the Yankees tomorrow.
The anti-Beckett, Lester is 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this year. This could be as close to a postseason start as the ultra-competitive Lester has this year, so if he's dialed in there is the potential for a memorable performance. Here's betting Terry Francona gives Lester every opportunity to earn the W. What is there to save him for?
Yankee yardwork for Beltre? Beltre is also chasing Sox history. He could join Butch Hobson as the only Red Sox third basemen to ever hit 30 home runs in a season. It's already been an incredible season for Beltre, who leads all major league third basemen in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). But perhaps what's more incredible is that the pending free agent hasn't homered yet against the Yankees as a Red Sox. In 47 at-bats this year against the Yankees, Beltre is homerless. By comparison, he has four home runs against the Tampa Bay Rays, three home runs against the Orioles and two against Toronto.
Beltre is going to be a very rich man this winter one way or the other, but it wouldn't hurt if the hot corner Hessian were to go deep against the Yankees on Sunday night in front of a national television audience. That would practically be a Scott Boras infomercial. Without the playoffs to showcase his client, Boras will probably make sure Beltre is in the lineup for the Fox game on Saturday and Sunday night's ESPN tilt.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.