Buster Olney of ESPN joined Mut & Merloni Thursday to discuss the Red Sox and their current woes. On the subject of Josh Beckett, Olney said the team needs to determine whether the pitcher, who reportedly went golfing last Thursday after being scratched for Saturday's start with a lat injury, has any intention of returning to his 2007 form, when he finished second in American League Cy Young voting and led the Sox to a World Series title.
"You try to figure out a way to sort of get past this stuff. I think you could hear it in Bobby [Valentine]'s answers yesterday when he was sort of struggling for answers and trying to get a grip around it," Olney said of Beckett's behavior. "I'm sure that today, presumably after the game, they're going to be looking for answers from him as well. I'm sure that they're just looking for some sign that he wants to get back to doing what he was doing in 2007, that he wants t be the leader of the staff, that he is ready to attack everything head-on.
"Maybe a first sign of that would be to come in after the game tonight and say, 'Look, I blew it with the situation.' He doesn't have to necessarily come out and say that. He can just come out and say, 'This is exactly what happened and here's why I decided to play golf, and here's why I feel like it was the right decision for me. I think it would help him and the Red Sox if he did that."
Olney said that he doesn't feel the Red Sox are as bad as their 12-18 record suggests. Boston is currently last in the American League East (7.5 games behind the division-leading Rays), but Olney noted that the division is even enough that anything can happen.
"I don't think it's that bad. Another thing too is that I think we have to start looking at the American League East as a NASCAR race. There have been 20 caution flags already thrown up," Olney said. "[Mariano] Rivera done for the season. Michael Pineda done for the year. Evan Longoria out with an extensive injury for the Rays. Toronto having changed closers about 15 times already.
"There are no great teams in this division right now. I picked the Rays before the year started. I think they still have the best starting pitching, but their offense is going to be an up and down situation. They don't have that much depth. When trades are made mid-summer, they're probably going to be the least likely of the teams to go out and make deals. I don't think the bar is set nearly as high as we thought it was going to be in the winter time, and it's going to be a situation where, like in a NASCAR race, they're all going to be bunched together, packed together, including the Orioles, and then maybe in the end it's going to be a sprint over the last 10 laps in August and September.
"If they were in the same division as the Rangers it would be a real problem. They're not. I don't think he Yankees are going to go through the season as a flawless team. The Rays are certainly not, and that's a good sign for the Red Sox."
One of the bright spots in what's been an ugly season for the Sox has been the emergence of third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The 23-year-old has impressed with three homers and nine RBI over his last four games, and talent evaluators across the league have had good things to say about the youngster.
"Some of them I've talked to think that right now he's a better player than Kevin Youkilis," Olney said. "I'm sure that even if the Red Sox internally believe that, they have to work like crazy to maintain Kevin Youkilis' trade value, because he does have trade value. They can't bury him. … They have to keep him in the mix and continue to play him, and I think that's probably as much of the motivation as anything to keep trying to get it going for Youk when he comes back."
For more on the Red Sox, visit weei.com/redsox .