For much of the season, Josh Beckett has been totally dominant and looked like a Cy Young candidate.
Beckett leads the Sox' rotation with 175.1 innings, and has allowed just 155 hits while fanning 163 batters.
But then, in August, Beckett began getting rocked.
Coming into his last start, Beckett had been battered in two consecutive outings, resulting in an 0-1 record and 10.12 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he had allowed 18 hits, 15 runs, and 8 homers. Opponents had batted .316 against him with an .807 slugging percentage and a 1.129 OPS.
Incredibly, in the midst of these beatings, Beckett had issued just one walk, meaning that opposing hitters were simply teeing off against him.
The Sox were hoping Beckett would return to form in his most recent start against Toronto last week. Instead, they got more of the same from him.
In that start, Beckett lasted just five innings, giving up five runs on five hits, while issuing a season-high five walks. While he did strike out nine Blue Jays, Beckett didn't look like the pitcher who had dominated opposing hitters most of the season.
What's going on?
The Red Sox believe his problems are rooted in his mechanics, the same problems that plagued him earlier this season. Beckett has been over-throwing, which has affected his delivery. The depth on his curve ball has diminished, as has the command on his fastball, which has been staying up in the strike zone. That's resulted in the wealth of home runs he's allowed in his recent outings.
Over his last four starts, Beckett has allowed a whopping 12 homers, after surrendering just 10 in his previous 22 starts this season.
The big righty is 0-1 in his last three starts, and his ERA, which had been 3.10 in his first 23 starts, has reached a whopping 9.82 over his last three outings. These three consecutive dismal performances have likely dropped him out of Cy Young contention.
It's as if he completed a 180˚ turn in August, forgetting all that had led him to success earlier in the season.
That does not bode well for the Red Sox post-season aspirations. As Beckett goes, so go the Red Sox. Without an effective Beckett on the mound, the Sox don't stand a chance in October, assuming they even get that far.
Undoubtedly, pitching coach John Farrell has been working furiously with Beckett to get his mechanics sorted out, and the process has been going on for weeks. Now it's crunch time. The calendar has turned to September and the regular season ends just one month from Friday.
That leaves little time to get it right. But considering Beckett's history and his tough and determined nature, it's hard to bet against him. Beckett is simply suffering through a late season swoon. Yet, while a slump was easier to contend with in April, if it continues in September it will be crushing to the Red Sox and their playoff hopes.
We'll know more tonight, as Beckett makes his 27th start of the 2009 campaign against the Rays in Tampa.
The defending AL champs should pose an interesting challenge for Boston's ace; they are fourth in the AL in runs, home runs and on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging.
They are also just 3.5 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings.
Will the real Josh Beckett please stand up?