Josh Beckett: Can Red Sox Win the AL East Without Their Former Ace Dominant?

Jason M. BurnsContributor IIMarch 17, 2011

BOSTON - APRIL 04: Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the second inning against the New York Yankees on Opening Night at Fenway Park on April 4, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

When Josh Beckett joined the Red Sox in 2006, he became an instant ace—anchoring the front-end of the Boston rotation. At the time, the staff was beginning to look a bit long in the tooth thanks to the soon-to-be-retired Curt Schilling.

Fast forward six seasons, and the former 20-game winner is now a big question mark on an otherwise exclamation point of a team. Fans watched Beckett’s 2010 season implode on itself as he finished the year with a dismal six wins and a frightening 5.78 ERA. This left many to wonder, regardless of the headline-grabbing offseason acquisitions, which Beckett would show up in 2011.

Should the Beckett bomb once again go off inside the confines of Fenway Park, can the otherwise-stacked Red Sox still compete in the AL East (home to some of the most intimidating bats in all of baseball)?

This writer and BoSox enthusiast thinks they can, but it sure would be less stressful riding into September if the newly-announced FOURTH starter could return to his old ace ways. (Yes, the pitcher the Red Sox recently paid $68 million to stay with the team through 2014 has been dropped into the four-hole in the rotation).

Monster contracts aside, what team in Major League Baseball wouldn’t want Josh Beckett as their fourth starter? Sure, watching him get knocked around in 2010 made it difficult to muster up any confidence in his throwing arm. That said, we had that same sour taste in our mouths back in 2008 before he bounced back a year later—finishing out 2009 with one of his best professional seasons to date.

I’m not suggesting Beckett is going to have a super-sized bounce-back season in 2011, but he’s certainly better than a six-game winner—especially with this offense backing him up. However, if he can’t find his groove (and the strike zone), things could certainly get dicey towards the back end of the rotation with the ever-inconsistent Dice-K following him up every night.

The offensive improvements made within the AL East also bode poorly for the return of Beckett’s glory days. Plenty of big bats dropped into the Orioles lineup this offseason, and an always scary roster of Yankee smashers are sprinkled into the season schedule. There won’t be very many “off” days for Red Sox pitchers, so any of them flirting with a 5.78 ERA just won’t cut it.

Whether or not the Red Sox win the division also depends on another wild card shaping up in New York. If the Yankee organization decides that their mostly Band-Aid rotation isn’t stopping the bleeding, they could cut ties with some of their prized minor leaguers and make a big move to bring in a top of the rotation arm. If that happens, Beckett’s performance (or lack thereof) becomes much more of a conversation starter around the sausage carts on Yawkey Way.

Can the Red Sox win the entire kit and kaboodle without Josh Beckett being the Josh Beckett of old? Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, both coming off career-best years in 2010, would say so. The big question now is can the highly competitive Beckett slip into the backseat of the car and let the young arms drive this team into another postseason?

If he can be comfortable in his new role and not cling to his ace past, Beckett will help this team. If he becomes unhappy and requires coddling, however, expect that ripple effect to carry into the clubhouse—putting a scarlet stink on the most anticipated Red Sox season in years.