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Sunday, July 17, 2011
Beckett owns AL East

By Jason McCallum

Josh Beckett
Beckett
The Tampa Bay Rays host the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Josh Beckett has had a very successful season, and when you boil it down to his performance against division rivals, it gets even better.

In seven starts against American League East opponents, Beckett is 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA. In his three starts against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, he's 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA. His only start against Tampa Bay this season was a one-hit shutout. (No pitcher has ever thrown two shutouts in the same season against the Rays.)

Beckett's success has been well-rounded this season, no matter what pitch he throws. The opponent batting average against three of his four main pitches (fastball, cutter, changeup) ranks in the top seven in the American League among starting pitchers. His curveball currently ranks ninth.

The pitch-by-pitch dominance has translated into overall dominance. What's left out is how economical Beckett's been. He ranks in the top four in ERA, opponent BA and WHIP, but throws only 97.7 pitches per outing, well down the MLB leaderboard.

When Beckett has gotten in trouble, he's done a great job of stranding runners. He leads the AL in left on base percentage, stranding 82.2 percent of the runners he's allowed on base.

Beckett's 2.27 ERA at the All-Star break was his best pre-break ERA of his career -- by far. In 2009, he posted a 3.35 ERA before the break for his previous best mark.

While Beckett's been lights out against division opponents, it's Boston's power surge that's helped it move to the top of the AL East. Since June 30, the Red Sox are 11-2, averaging 6.7 runs per game. In those 13 games they've hit 27 home runs, including four from Jacoby Ellsbury.

The American League leader in stolen bases, Ellsbury has 10 home runs from the leadoff spot in the order -- only Ian Kinsler (15) has more among AL leadoff hitters. Ellsbury is one of three Red Sox who rank in the top six in the American League in most wins above replacement this season.

Facing the Red Sox will be Jeff Niemann, who is 3-0 in four starts since coming off the disabled list. (He was 1-4 in six starts with a 5.75 ERA before going on the DL with a back injury.)

However, Niemann has had his share of struggles at home this season. His home ERA is more than two runs greater than his road ERA (5.53 versus 3.46), and he's allowing opponents to hit .325 at Tropicana Field.