Are Red Sox still a series contender?

With the Red Sox hitting a bit of a rough patch prior to Tuesday's 18-run explosion, we asked Curt Schilling to answer some user questions. If you have any questions for Curt, you can leave them here and the next time he does a mailbag maybe he'll answer it.

Q: I expect the Sox to hold on and make the playoffs, but based on what you've seen (especially the pitching), do you really think they're a legit World Series contender? -- Jerry (Natick, Mass)

A: If Josh Beckett is not truly healthy I would say no. If he is, I think it's absolutely possible, but more of a challenge than I thought a month or two ago. The lack of a clear No. 3 pitcher given the offenses that they will likely face in October is an issue.

Q: When you watch John Lackey pitch, what do you see? If you were his pitching coach, what would you be working on with him or trying to correct? -- Nick P. (Hartford, Conn.)

A: I see, for the most part, the same guy I saw in Anaheim. John has never been a power/strike out pitcher. His career numbers don't lie, he gives up about a hit an inning and he walks, at least for me, way too many hitters to maintain a low ERA in the AL East. A K/BB ratio of under 3-1 is OK if you are a guy that gets a lot of strikeouts, but as someone who relies on defense, and hitters putting the ball in play, the AL East can be a nightmare. And don't dismiss the off the field stuff [Lackey's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer during the offseason] . He's human, it matters and it affects you.

Q: Hi Curt, while obviously it was different, given your experience with an ankle/foot injury, how do you expect Josh Beckett to respond when he comes back? -- Rick (Boston)

A: I honestly have no idea what the problem is so I can't speculate. I will tell you that he'll pitch if it's even a remote possibility. I don't know how severe it is, but the fact that he's scheduled to pitch later this week is a good sign.

Q: Who would your pick be for AL MVP if you had a vote? -- Harvey (Providence, R.I.)

A: My vote today is for Curtis Granderson.

Q: Big fan up here in the Granite State. My question is on Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. It seems like everyone just wants to wash our hands of Pap at the end of the year and give the job to Bard. But as good as Bard is, I'm not sold he can just step right in (whereas I know Pap can do it). Do you think Bard can move right in next season and be the closer? -- Bill (New Hampshire)

A: Can he? Sure. Will he? I don't know. Should they 'wash their hands' of Pap? I don' t think they should and I don't think they will. Getting three outs in the 8th is just a different animal than getting those three in the 9th and for many guys it takes time to acclimate and learn. I always looked at the 9th inning in close games as October baseball in a nutshell. Every single pitch can be the game, and you have to be perfect or near perfect, every single time.

Q: Do you think the Sox will hold on and make the playoffs? And if they do, do you think they can make it through the Yankees (I know they've had success against NY this year, but I think the Sox were a better team then)? -- Matty (Brookline, Mass.)

A: Right now, without knowing what's going on with Josh I don't know. The Rays are riding something special right now, and I always felt that '3' was the magic number. Once you are within 3 all bets are off because that's a series sweep away. When it gets to three, in my mind it's not a three-game difference, but a one series difference. I would also add that this is when/where I always felt Terry Francona was at his best. His ability to quell the uprising, not panic, is going to be huge these next few weeks. Before they can even meet, the Yanks and whoever wins the wild card are probably going to have to make it through the Rangers and Tigers, and that's not going to be easy. I think people always think it is when considering the AL East playoff teams.

Curt Schilling, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2004 to 2008, is a three-time World Series champion, six-time MLB All-Star and founder of 38 Studios. He and his wife, Shonda, have raised money to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) through Curt's Pitch for ALS and have encouraged awareness for sun protection through the SHADE Foundation. They recently announced their support for the Asperger's Association of New England after their third child was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.