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Red Sox Vs. Rays: Josh Beckett Returns To The Mound As Sox Look For Series Win

The Red Sox are gunning for a series win on a rival's home field Sunday night, as Josh Beckett takes the mound for the first time in the second half, looking to shut down the Rays.

There's no questioning that the Red Sox' offense is back from the break. While Adrian Gonzalez hasn't quite gotten things going just yet--please don't go blaming the home run derby just yet--the rest of the team has been on something of a tear, scoring 15 runs in the first two games on the backs of seven home runs. And, in many ways, they're coming from where you'd least expect them.

Typically the 1-2 combination of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are designed to give guys like Gonzalez, Youkilis, and Ortiz men to drive in, maybe creating some havoc and dividing the pitcher's attention with some stolen bases. Of late, though, they've just been getting the scoring done themselves. Both Ellsbury and Pedroia have homered in each of the last two games. That makes six homers in eight games for Pedroia, and four in the last seven for Ellsbury.

Now imagine if the middle of the order can get going one day before Carl Crawford is due back?

Boston Red Sox (56-36)

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  5. David Ortiz, DH
  6. J.D. Drew, RF
  7. Josh Reddick, LF
  8. Jason Varitek, C
  9. Marco Scutaro, SS

The Tampa Bay Rays will make some minor changes to their lineup again. Seven of the nine, though, are players who were present for Beckett's last start against the Rays, when things went quite well for him. 

Tampa Bay Rays (50-42)

  1. Johnny Damon, DH
  2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  3. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  4. Evan Longoria, 3B
  5. Matt Joyce, RF
  6. B.J. Upton, CF
  7. Jose Lobaton, C
  8. Sam Fuld, LF
  9. Reid Brignac, SS

Pitching Matchup: Josh Beckett (8-3, 2.27 ERA) vs Jeff Niemann (4-4, 4.53 ERA)

The last time Josh Beckett took the mound at Tropicana Field, the results fell just shy of history. In eight of the nine innings he threw that night, Beckett was perfect. He allowed no hits, no runs, and no walks. The only blemish on his night came in the third, when Kevin Youkilis could not save a weak grounder from going for an infield single.

While Beckett's near-perfection will not live on in the annals of history, it's a clear indication that this is not only a lineup he can beat, but one that he can dominate. The question is, will he be at 100%? Beckett last pitched nine days ago in a game where he tweaked his knee--an injury that forced him to pull himself out of the All-Star Game when he felt sore warming up. Even if the knee is completely fine, the last time we saw Beckett on such extended rest was when he made his return from an illness against the Phillies after missing a start. He allowed five earned runs in six innings that night--the worst he's done in any outing this season.

Hopefully Beckett won't have to be perfect, though. After all, the Sox have done well enough against the rest of the Ray's pitching staff, so why not Jeff Niemann? The righty is not nearly as impressive a pitcher as James Shields or David Price. His weakness in the strikeout department is, of course, the Rays' specialty--their defense makes anything other than a line drive or home run and undesirable outcome--but so far that hasn't served to keep Niemann's ERA any lower than a middling 4.53. He's been good since his return to the Tampa rotation a few weeks back, even shutting down the Yankees last week, but he's got a tougher test on his hands Sunday.