What’s wrong with Josh Beckett?

I had the opportunity to watch the Red Sox-Rays game last night in what was supposed to be a great pitcher’s duel between Josh Beckett and Matt Garza. What it turned out to be was a Boston beat down, as Tampa Bay routed the BoSox 13-0 thanks to Garza’s near perfect game. (Jacoby Ellsbury’s infield single off Garza in the seventh ended his bid for a perfect game.)

Outside of Garza’s flirtation with perfection, one of the storylines was Beckett, who allowed seven runs on 10 hits in just 4.2 innings of work. He also allowed eight runs in his previous start, which means he has now surrendered seven or more runs in consecutive starts for just the second time in his career.

What was strange about his performance was that it wasn’t just another bad outing. Beckett was actually cruising until he got into trouble in the third, retiring six of the first seven batters he faced while also striking out four. He was throwing the ball hard, his curve was sharp and he had great command. It really looked like he was going to have one of those outings where you talk about him afterwards as being one of the best aces in baseball.

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2009 MLB Preview: #6 Tampa Bay Rays

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Offseason Movement: The Rays hope the signing of OF/DH Pat Burrell will add a little more pop to their lineup, although it could sink their team batting average at the same time. The club also added a slew of pitchers including Lance Cormier, Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse, and acquired outfielder Matt Joyce from the Tigers in exchange for RHP Edwin Jackson.

Top Prospect: David Price, RHP
The Rays never seem to have a shortage of top prospects at their disposal and Price clearly tops a group that also includes RHP’s Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson. Some believe Price is the best pitching prospect in baseball and he should have gotten the opportunity to prove that this year at the big league level. But the Rays optioned the talented youngster to Triple-A Durham recently for reasons unknown to Price and the rest of the baseball world. Tampa could be regretting the decision if the Yankees and/or Red Sox take early lead in the highly competitive AL East.

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2009 MLB Preview: #28 Baltimore Orioles

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Offseason Movement: One of the busier teams this offseason, the Orioles acquired OF Felix Pie and LHP Rich Hill from the Cubs, while also adding free agents Ty Wigginton, Mark Hendrickson, Cesar Izturis, Gregg Zaun, Ryan Freel, John Parrish, David Pauley, Chris Gomez, Chad Moeller and Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara.

Top Prospect: Matt Wieters, C
Wieters isn’t only the best prospect in Baltimore – he’s the best prospect in baseball. He can flat out rake and once he gets some experience under his belt, he could be a .300 hitter who produces 12-15 home runs a year. Unfortunately, Baltimore fans that were hoping to see him play early this season will have to wait. Wieters is expected to start the first two months in the International League, but could be called up before the All-Star Break with the O’s not expected to be in contention. Some have compared Wieters to Joe Mauer and Mike Piazza.

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Appreciate how the Rays got here

Tampa Bay RaysForget the magical, out-of-nowhere season for just a second. Instead, take a moment to appreciate how the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays got here.

No big name free agents. No blockbuster trades. No big payroll. The Rays’ built their success through years of phenomenal drafting, patience, and unlike most MLB teams, had the foresight to resist overspending on overpriced talent.

The Rays’ roster is littered with examples of how a baseball team should build success.

Take Matt Garza, the starting pitcher who limited the Red Sox to just two runs in 13 innings in the ALCS. He was the top prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ organization entering the 2007 season, and the 21st-best prospect in Major League Baseball according to Baseball America. But he couldn’t crack the Twins’ starting rotation out of spring training and the team began to grow impatient. The Twins felt that they could get a quality bat in return for their star prospect, and they eventually did.

In the 2008 offseason, Minnesota packaged Garza along with Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan, and sent them to Tampa for Delmon Young, Jason Pridie and Brendan Harris. And while Garza only had a smattering of success in the regular season this year (he went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA), he saved his best work for Boston in the postseason and wound up earning the ALCS MVP.

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Rays to face Phillies in 2008 World Series

Matt GarzaWith their 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series for the first time in the history of their franchise.

There was no choke from the bullpen this time as reliever David Price struck out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded to end the top of the eighth, then (after putting the first guy on) retired the BoSox in the ninth. Starter Matt Garza was amazing for Tampa, limiting Boston to just one run on two hits. It was the second time he baffled the Red Sox this series, holding them to just two runs in 13 innings.

I’ll take full credit/blame for Tampa Bay’s victory. I wrote after Boston’s Game 6 victory that the Red Sox were a virtual lock to head to the World Series. As I wrote in that post, I wasn’t necessarily rooting against the Red Sox, but I appreciate how the Rays built their team over the year. They’ve done it with youth and through their farm system and they should be commended for doing so in a league that sometimes rewards teams for being able to spend the most money.

A Tampa-Philadelphia World Series certainly isn’t the most glamorous matchup the postseason could have produced (and it’s no doubt killing the TV networks), but the Rays were the story of the year and it’ll be exciting to see if they can cap this amazing season off by winning a championship.

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