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Josh Beckett And John Lackey Need To Step Up In 2011

This offseason, the Red Sox front office has done everything they could have possibly done to ensure success in 2011. All the returning Red Sox in 2011 have to do is perform up to expectations, and this will be a World Series contending team.

Expectations, however, can be tricky. The expectations leading into Spring Training last season was that Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey would anchor the 2010 pitching rotation, with Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka rounding out the group. This certainly was not the case.

Beckett battled injury last year, which kept him out of the rotation for the majority of the season. He put up horrible numbers in 2010, as he went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA and was limited to a career-low 21 starts. He was coming off a solid 2009 season, but could not stay healthy enough to repeat it.

Lackey was the highly thought of big-game pitcher that the Red Sox signed to a 5-year 82.5 million dollar contract last offseason. He didn't have the best of career stats--strong though they were--but his competitiveness and postseason success swayed Theo Epstein into signing him to a long-term deal. Lackey did not live up to his contract last season, as he went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 33 starts. While he did manage a solid 4.0 WAR, much of his value came just from staying healthy instead of from impressive pitching.

Although Lester turned in a phenomenal season and Clay Buchholz had the breakout year we were all waiting for , it wasn't enough to save the Red Sox rotation.

Now that the Red Sox are revamped for 2011, the rotation needs to perform up to expectations, something it didn't do last year. There is no secret that this revolves around the health and effectiveness of both Beckett and Lackey. Here is why these two players could make or break the Red Sox upcoming season:

Josh Beckett

Before the season started, the Red Sox rewarded Beckett with a 4-year extension after his 2009 performance. However, because of back trouble he battled in 2010, there were a lot of fingers pointing at Theo Epstein for extending Beckett too early.

Since being acquired from the Marlins in 2006, Beckett has been groomed to be the Red Sox' ace of the future when Curt Schilling retired. Since then, Beckett has only won more than 16 games and kept his ERA under 4 twice in his five-year career in Boston.

2006: 16-11 5.01 ERA

2007: 20-7 3.27 ERA

2008: 12-10 4.03 ERA

2009: 17-6 3.86 ERA

2010: 6-6 5.78 ERA

In 2007, Beckett had a career year as he picked up 20 wins and recorded a career-low ERA while guiding the Sox to the World Series title over the Rockies. Beckett finished second that year in the Cy Young race as he carried a Red Sox pitching staff that included a hurt Curt Schilling and a very young Jon Lester to a World Series title. Beckett won every playoff game for the Sox that he pitched, and picked up slack for a struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield in the Cleveland series.

Without Beckett pitching the way he did, the Red Sox probably would not have won the World Series that season, maybe not even getting past the Indians in the second round. The same could go for this season, as rcent history shows that World Series pitching staffs have to be solid from 1 through 3, even if Jon Lester is the clear ace now for the Red Sox.

2010 World Series Champion Giants: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez

2009 World Series Champion Yankees: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte

2008 World Series Champion Phillies: Hamels, Moyer, Myers

Beckett has shown his value to the Red Sox, because when he pitches well enough (when a 4.03 ERA isn't all that bad), the Sox make the postseason. Even though the true ace of the Red Sox is now Jon Lester, Beckett is still a solid number 2 or number 3 starter and his 2011 season will make a difference in the Red Sox' success.

If you believe in patterns, Beckett will have a great year in 2011. But if you also believe in injuries, Beckett may not return to the pitcher he once was. We can only hope that he will.

John Lackey

When the Red Sox signed Lackey to such a lucrative contract last offseason, many fans were scratching their heads as to why the Red Sox just payed a declining pitcher so much money. While Lackey was an ace in Los Angeles, it was not beyond the realm of possibility that he would only be the fourth best starter in Boston.

Even though we all were frustrated with Lackey's 2010 results, that is just the type of pitcher he has been over the last few seasons. Last year, Lackey went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Compared to his numbers with the Angels from 2008-2009, Lackey had a similar total in wins, K/9, SO/9, and WAR from season to season in the time span.

The pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting was the 2005-2007 Lackey, were he registered WAR ratings between 5 and 6 and kept his ERA down below four. Even in his last two years, Lackey had been solid, but had missed time in both seasons. Lackey stayed healthy, but he did not produce, recording the worst ERA in his career, with a career low in SO/9 at 6.53 and his highest BB/9 rating since 2005 with a 3.01 mark in 2010.

The fact of the matter is, the Red Sox should have known that Lackey is a declining pitcher. At this point in his career, he is the number four starter behind Lester, Buchholz, and (hopefully) Beckett. Still, he could have plenty to offer.

We all know that Lackey can give us a solid six to seven innings and bring his bulldog mentality to the mound. Lackey will most certainly have to have to limit his walks next season in order for his ERA to drop. Lackey had a very similar season in 2004, where he surrendered 108 runs and recorded a 4.67 ERA in a year that he went 14-13. The next season, Lackey had a 14-5 record, recorded a 3.44 ERA and only surrendered 85 runs.

Unfortunately, age is no longer on his side. He is certainly capable of bouncing back after a tough season, the question is, is whether or not he can at this point in his career.

Another note on Lackey, is that he will likely have a lot more pressure on him coming into this season than last, as the health and effectiveness of Josh Beckett is in question. If Beckett does not return to his old self or at least close to it, the pressure will build for Lackey to be a solid number three starter for Boston next season behind Lester and Buchholz.

With a 2011 season that is upon us, the expectations on this team can't be any higher. The success of these two pitchers could make a difference as to whether the Red Sox will be playing in October, or sitting on the couch waiting for the next season.

Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will most certainly give the offense and defense a lift, but as the Giants showed us this season, you have to have solid starting pitching to win a title.

Your move guys.