Josh Beckett will make his return to the starting rotation Friday night against the Rays, but he will do so without the full Red Sox lineup behind him. Boston will be without Kevin Youkilis for a bit, as the hurt third baseman will be out for at least two games as he continues to struggle with a variety of injuries.
While the lack of the name makes the lineup look that much worse, the fact of the matter is that, playing hurt as he has, Youkilis isn't exactly a big contributor to the lineup. With Mike Aviles and his .353 OBP (since joining the Sox) replacing him in the lineup, the Sox might not be much worse off than in days past.
The only other variation on the usual group comes behind the plate, as Jason Varitek forms his usual battery with Beckett.
Boston Red Sox (86-63)
The Rays have made a bit of a change in their starting lineup, swapping Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman between the fourth and sixth slots to try and finally get to Josh Beckett.
Tampa Bay Rays (83-66)
Pitching Matchup: Josh Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) vs. James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA)
A big matchup for an important game, as the Sox and Rays will throw the best they have at one another.
On the one hand, Josh Beckett has been the more dominant of the two, particularly in the matchup. In two games against the Rays this year, the Sox' ace has thrown 17 innings, giving up two hits and zero walks of shutout ball. On the other hand, Shields has done just fine in three of his four outings against Boston--though the six runs in six innings in the other start is less-than-impressive.
What it comes down to is Beckett's health and preparation. Beckett has nearly no-hit this team twice, but a lengthy layoff between starts could well have unsettled him. If so, the Sox will have their work cut out for them to dig out of whatever hole he creates.