The big game is less than an hour away and the big question is, undoubtedly: which Josh Beckett will show up tonight?
His fastball averaged 93.9 miles an hour in 2008, but it decreased to 92.4 against the Angels and just 91.1 against the Rays, according to the Inside Edge scouting service. (In three postseason starts last year, he averaged 95.3.)
And as Tony Massarotti noted, putting his finger right on the crux of the issue after Beckett’s Game 2 start, this is making him entirely too hittable:
The most disturbing statistic from this game was that Beckett threw 93 pitches and managed just four swings-and-misses, only one of them coming on a fastball.
Let’s say that again.
Beckett threw 93 pitches and got one fastball by a Tampa hitter – a swinging strike by B.J. Upton in the first inning. Every other fastball was either put in play or fouled off.
The other swings-and-misses? Two were on curveballs, one on a cutter. And this was against a Tampa team that struck 1,224 times during the regular season, more than any AL club but the Oakland A’s (1,226).
And keep in mind that the A’s have Jack Cust.
Whether Beckett wants to admit publicly that he’s hurting or not, the radar gun doesn’t lie. Well, sometimes it does…but that’s not the point. The box score doesn’t lie, and last time the Rays managed 9 hits–three of them leaving the ballpark–and 8 runs off of Beckett in four and a third. Though he has struggled to notch first-pitch strikes this postseason (48% of batters, according to the same NYT article), he only walked 1 Ray last time out, while striking out 5. (He walked 4 and struck out 6 against the Angels, and also gave up 9 hits, including two longballs.)
Tonight, Beckett’s first challenge will be to keep the ball inside the ballpark. So far this postseason, he’s given up 5 homers in 9 and a third innings. A home run every other inning? That just won’t do.
His second challenge will be to keep the ball close to, if not actually inside, the strike zone–especially on the first pitch. Throwing the first pitch for a strike will allow him to rely more on his breaking stuff, which he’ll have to do since he clearly can’t blow the heater by these Rays. I say “close to” the strike zone since everything “in” the zone seems to end up soaring into the stands or ricocheting around the outfield.
(Yes, these are basics–but if their offense has caught fire, that’s all Boston needs.)
His third challenge will be beating himself. Look, a big 28-year old Texan used to throwing 95 with movement just isn’t a finesse kind of guy. When he’s behind in the count–heck, when he’s ahead in the count and smelling blood in the water–he’ll want to reach back for the gas. But right now, the tank’s empty. He won’t like it, and he hasn’t had time to learn it, but until that muscle heals he’ll just have to throw something else.
So tonight, Josh Beckett, the Boston Red Sox, and nervous Fenway Faithful everywhere are all hoping the same thing: please, hardball gods, let Jason Varitek have a plan.