|RH J. Beckett
|RH J. Shields
RH Josh Beckett, Boston-After being dominated through 7.2 shutout innings last night by Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, the Rays go back out today to face yet another steady arm in the Boston rotation. To call Beckett "steady" is an understatement, given his second place finish last year in the Cy Young voting. After a 2006 adjustment to the AL that saw him post an ERA above five for the first time in his career, Beckett came out in 2007 and was the staff ace the Sox needed as they charged to their second World Series title in four years. His strikeout rates increased back up to the level he maintained with the NL's Florida Marlins, and his walk rate plummeted to an all-time low. His superb pitching in one of the AL's most hitter-friendly ballparks last year was entirely in keeping with his peripherals, as well as the talent which Beckett clearly has. He proved that he could pitch away from the National League and the friendly confines of Joe Robbie Stadium, and he gives the Sox an excellent one-two punch with RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka.
He's gotten off to a rather slow start to his 2008 campaign, having struggled in his season-opening start on April 6th against Toronto, but he has rebounded to post two very solid outings against the New York Yankees. He has only started twice at Tropicana Field over the course of his career, although those two starts have resulted in a cumulative 2.77 ERA. He has a 4.26 ERA in 31.2 innings all-time against the Rays.
RH Jamie Shields, RAYS-Fresh off of a solid seven inning outing against the Toronto Blue Jays at Disney, Jamie Shields takes to the hill for the Rays this afternoon in search of a series sweep. Though Shields gave up four runs in his last outing, only two of them were earned thanks to porous defense from the Rays. That's unfortunately been a theme in Shields' last three starts, as he has surrendered 14 runs over his last three starts, yet only seven have been qualified as "earned runs". The shoddy defense still hasn't stopped Shields from amassing a 3.30 ERA this year, even despite peripherals that are actually worse than he posted a season ago.
To be sure, his rate stats are still very much within reason. A 6.30 K/9 and 2.40 BB/9 are excellent, but his K:BB is nearly half of what it was in 2007. He's allowing more baserunners than he did last season, to the tune of a 1.40 WHIP, and he is giving up far too many base hits. On the positive side, he has nearly halved his home run rate from last year through his first four starts. If he can avoid the three run homer, the rest of Shields' game should still take care of itself.
So while Jamie hasn't had an ideal start to the season, he has done more than enough to keep the Rays in the games he starts. With the absence of RHP Matt Garza and LHP Scott Kazmir from the rotation, he has picked up the slack and really taken on the ace's mantle for a team that desperately needed it.