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BeckWillBurn, Jones

We're well into September and the Marlins are just one game out of the playoff picture. That's not a bad place to be, right? Well, it's pretty good, but there are definitely some question marks. Here's a quick rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the pitching staff:

The Good
Dontrelle Willis recorded his 20th win of the season last night. Not only that, he also notched his 20th hit of the season. That makes Willis the first pitcher (Mike Hampton) since 1999 to join the 20/20 club (maybe he and Jay-Z will team up to open a club).

Todd Jones is getting some well deserved recognition: Jones was named the "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" for August. Fortunately for Jones, this is an honor and does not mean that he will have to deliver packages (as some struggling relievers may be encouraged to do).

Jones is having a heck of a year and the article (linked to above) sums up many of his accomplishments quite succintly.

The Bad
It isn't just that Josh Beckett (13 runs in his past three starts - which haven't even averaged five innings) is struggling of late. He's apparently pitching through an injury (shoulder tendinitis). Somewhat amazingly, the arm trouble is being blamed on Beckett's heavy workload:

Beckett could be experiencing the strain of what, for him, has been a long season. He has already thrown 151 2/3 innings, which is five innings shy of a career high.

How can 151 2/3 innings be to blame for Beckett's troubles? Injuries happen; that's one thing. But a pitcher like Beckett, who has been in the majors full-time since 2002, should be conditioned to throw 200 innings (or more) in a given season. Apparently Beckett isn't. For comparison, Dontrelle Willis has already eclipsed 200 innings this season (five others have thrown at least 200 innings as well). 85 pitchers have thrown more innings than Beckett this year. Granted, he has missed some starts, but a pitcher with Beckett's abilites should be logging more innings. My guess is that will come up in his arbitration hearings (or whatever his contract talks end up being).

But that's down the road. What's much more immediate is this:

... which has slowed his arm speed and created enough concern in the organization that there have been discussions about having him skip a start.

The last thing this team needs is for one of the Big Three to miss a start, particularly as they head into weekend series with the Phillies (this weekend and next), sandwiched around a four game set against the Astros' Big Three in Houston.

The Ugly
A.J. Burnett has struggled of late (12 runs in 16 innings over his past three starts). His troubles aren't physical though. They're mental - he's simply not focusing. That is really troubling.

What's distracting A.J.? Is it impending free agency? The pressure of the playoff chase? Trouble at home? No, no, and no. Apparently it's on field things:

"I've let a lot of things bother me that I don't normally let bother me," said Burnett, who is riding a three-game losing streak after reeling off seven consecutive victories.

Burnett he thought the Marlins should have ordered the infield to play in in the first inning of Sunday's start against New York when the Mets scored a first-inning run.

That sound you hear is George Steinbrenner closing his checkbook. If A.J. can't keep his head straight playing in front of sparse crowds when he questions a managerial decision, I can't imagine The Boss is going to break the bank to lure him up North.

Maybe the upside to this is that A.J. will be more affordable, than we previously expected, for the Fish to resign. If he can't come through in the clutch though, it really doesn't matter because he's probably not worth having.