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Don't be fooled: Daisuke Matsuzaka's performance tonight will be huge

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Daisuke Matsuzaka is back and that's all we know. That's all we know.

No, seriously. Dice-K could be great tonight. Or he could be horrible. He could go out there and last 2 innings and give up 8 runs. Or he could go 8 innings and give up 2 runs.

We don't know. The Red Sox front office doesn't know. Dice-K wishes he knew, but he doesn't.

It's all up in the air at this point. But whatever the result, it's huge.

I think if Dice-K's return start was a line in Vegas, nobody would make any money by betting that he wouldn't log a quality start. That's just because he's been doing it all season. However, if you bet the fact Dice-K comes back and dominates the Angels, you're making cash, my friend.

At this point, Dice-K needs to pitch well and the Red Sox need him too as well:

Despite the perception that Matsuzaka’s 2009 was a lost cause after he started 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA, the Sox have steadfastly maintained their desire to have him contribute this season. And they’re standing by him now, giving him four starts to prove he’s worthy of pitching in October.

"I think it’s a very real possibility," pitching coach John Farrell said. "We’re talking about someone who’s been very successful here. It could really give us a boost in the arm for him to step back in the rotation. Any time you take a 15- to 20-game winner and insert him back into your rotation, it’s a positive."

But is he still a 15- to 20-game winner? Is it just Dice-K this season, or is this bad Dice-K the guy we're going to see for the rest of his contract? Because this certainly isn't the guy we've seen for the last couple of seasons.

A new Dice-K, perhaps? The Sox say he's at least in better shape:

The Sox believe Matsuzaka is in better shape than when he left. He ramped himself up this spring to pitch for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, leading his country to the tournament title, but he arrived at spring training in Fort Myers in less than peak physical condition.

"He has done an outstanding job of committing to a program and getting himself in what we consider, just to the naked eye, better shape," Farrell said. "He’s reshaped his body. He’s added core strength. He’s gotten the strength levels in his shoulder back to a level where he was a year ago. I think he feels good about himself as well, so we’re all looking forward to his next time out here."

The Sox need Dice-K even more because, well, everyone else has pretty much sucked too outside of the current big three ... four? 3.5? (And when you read this lead, I swear I did not read this article before I started to pull my article. Me and Gammo just have an amazing journalistic mind. That's all):

In a season that has had all the smoothness of a turbulent airplane flight, the Sox carry some depressing numbers on the back of their rotation: In the 47 games started by Matsuzaka, John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Junichi Tazawa and Paul Byrd, those starters have recorded a grand total of three outs after the sixth inning. Daisuke's most recent quality start was Oct. 10 in the ALCS against Tampa Bay.

Can you say, "fifth starter"? Right now, the Sox have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester at the top of their rotation. Clay Buchholz has solidified his spot as the No. 3 starter, in my opinion, and if Tim Wakefield is healthy, there's your No. 4.

Dice-K, you're up.

Good, bad, indifferent -- it doesn't really matter tonight, because it's all big. Dice-K has four opportunities to prove to the Red Sox he still knows how to get MLB batters out (even if that does involve walking half of them). So what's the verdict? Who will the Sox see tonight: good or bad Dice-K?