McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

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McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
A year ago, Josh Beckett had one win against the New York Yankees and a bloated 10.04 ERA against them in five starts.

Not so incidentally, the Yankees finished in a tie for first place in the American League East while the Red Sox lagged behind in third place, far from the playoff picture.

This season, Beckett is 4-0 in five starts against the Yankees with a tidy 2.12 ERA.

No so incidentally, the Red Sox have the best record in the American League, and as September dawns, are virtually assured of reaching the post-season.

Sensing a pattern here?

When Beckett gets blown up against the Sox' main rival, the Red Sox stumble. When he pitches well against them, they thrive.

Four of Beckett's wins this season have come against the Yankees, making him the first Red Sox pitcher since Al Nipper in 1987 to beat them four times in the same season.

On Wednesday night, Beckett had his difficulties. In the sixth inning alone, with the Red Sox leading 4-1, Beckett allowed four runs -- or, more than he had in 27 innings against the Yankees before Wednesday night.

Outfielder Josh Reddick kicked a ball around the right field corner, allowing Eric Chavez to end up on third base, but Beckett could take most of the blame after hitting Mark Teixeira on the foot to open the inning, and, two batters later, walking Nick Swisher.

But that inning was the one slip-up. Other than the four-run fourth, he allowed just one other run and lugged the Sox through the seventh inning, where only Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were needed from the bullpen.

The Sox are now 11-3 against the Yankees and that dominance helps to explain why they're not only ahead of New York in the standings, but also, ahead of everybody else.

And the starting pitcher in almost half (five) of those Red Sox wins? Beckett.

Jon Lester is essentially repeating the season he had a year ago. So, too, for better or worse, is John Lackey. Daisuke Matsuzaka did little before being shelved for the year.

The X factor, then, is Beckett. Although he's excluded from the team's MVP debate, the case could be made that it is he who is most responsible for their turnaround from a year ago.

''This is the guy we've relied on,'' said an appreciative Terry Francona. "We were hoping he'd come back with a vengeance and he has. He's been so consistent."

It helps that Beckett hasn't had any of the nagging injuries that have marked his sub-par years. Helps, too, that he enjoyed a healthy spring training, when, in other seasons, injuries and illness in March have set Beckett up for failure.

Beckett was determined to bounce back from a poor 2010 (6-6, 5.78). He dedicated himself to a more rigorous off-season training program and has yet to miss a start.

But ask Beckett what's been the difference between this season and last and he answers, in an almost zen-like state, that it's all about executing pitches.

"I think that's what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or bad seasons," he said.

Understand that Beckett likes self-analysis about as much as a root canal. He loves competing. What he doesn't like is talking about competing.

And so, Beckett offers up some vague generalizations about his bounce-back season.

"I'm a different pitcher now than I was at any time last year," he said.

Of that, there can be no argument. The innings and strikeouts are up, the hits allowed and walks are down. With better run support -- incredibly, Beckett and Lackey are tied with the same number of wins, despite the fact that the former's ERA is less than half that of the the latter -- Beckett might have 16 or 17 wins and be on the outskirts of the Cy Young Award discussion.

The Red Sox still have a month to make a decision about their No. 3 starter in the playoffs. But there can be no debate about who will be their No. 1. And should the Sox and Yankees keep their date for the ALCS, it's clear who should start Game 1 for the Red Sox.

Because without an improved Josh Beckett, the Red Sox wouldn't be worried about their playoff rotation, only about getting there.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

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Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels:

QUOTES

* “He just had very good command the entire night. Stayed ahead in the count [and] pitched to all quadrants of the strike zone. He used his four-seamer in on some powerful right-handed hitters in their lineup.” John Farrell on Rick Porcello’s performance.

* “We needed a win bad and swung the bats well and played good defense. That’s a big win for us.” Rick Porcello said after his win in an interview with NESN.

* “24 hours ago we were probably in a much different place mentally after a ball game like tonight.” Farrell on the win.

“That was probably the first time I sat on off-speed pitches this whole year. I took a chance, took a gamble.” Jackie Bradley Jr. said on his home run.

NOTES

* Rick Porcello completed his first game in a Red Sox uniform in the 6-2 win. The CG was the fifth of his career and his first since he threw three in 2014. The righty has 14 wins, one win shy of tying his career high.

* Xander Bogaerts had his first multi extra-base hit performance of the season since June 11. He’s only done that twice this season. He extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

* David Ortiz logged his 85th RBI of the season in the win and Mookie Betts his 67th. Heading into Friday night’s game, the two were one of five pairs of teammates ranking in the top 20 in RBI. The list includes Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, Adam Duvall and Jay Bruce and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

* Dustin Pedroia has now reached base safely in 32 straight games.

STARS

1) Rick Porcello

Porcello had his first complete game in a Red Sox uniform, stopping Boston’s losing skid at four games.

2) Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts finished with a double and a home run -- the only Boston hitter with multiple hits. He also led the Red Sox with three RBI and scoring twice in the win.

3) Dustin Pedroia

In addition to walking in his first two at-bats, Pedroia had a base hit -- and another walk -- scoring twice on the night.

First impressions of the Red Sox' 6-2 win over the Angels

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First impressions of the Red Sox' 6-2 win over the Angels

First impressions of the Red Sox 6-2 win over Los Angeles:

Rick Porcello is not fazed by his fellow staff members’ struggles.

Although his teammates continue to deal with frustrations on almost a nightly basis, Porcello got the job done and put Boston in a position to win once again.

The second-inning double by Daniel Nava should have been a single, had Jackie Bradley Jr. not misplayed a funny hop. If that hit is a single, the next ground ball is a double -- and the following grounder ends the inning.

One of the most impressive components of his outing was dealing with Cole Kalhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to finish his outing after already facing them three times on the night.

Xander Bogaerts had his first multi-hit game in a week.

Which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a long time -- but that can feel like a long time given the shortstop’s output this year.

It was also his first multi extra-base hit performance since June 11.

Oddly enough, those are his only two games of that kind this season.

In addition to the win, Porcello did the bullpen a favor.

Not necessarily because the relievers needed rest, but with Ziegler’s last two rough nights, they could use a break.

Although Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz got warm late, it was more so to keep them fresh for the coming games since they haven’t thrown much.

Additionally, he gave an example for the Red Sox starting rotation that they are in fact capable of going the distance.

Tim Lincecum is barely a shell of what he used to be.

That first inning was hard to watch. The former Cy Young Award-winner threw eight straight balls, and somehow managed to work past. Even his final throw to first base in he opening frame looked like it was going off the mark.

Just hard to watch in general, which made it all the more shocking that the Red Sox couldn’t score against him.

Good for them that he never adjusted, and they took advantage of it in the ensuing innings.

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Merloni: ‘Missed opportunities left and right’ for Red Sox

Lou Merloni talks about the Red Sox losing 6 out of the last 7 games and if David Price should have stayed in the game for the 9th inning.