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Jonathan Papelbon Pitching His Way to a Lucrative Long-Term Contract

Earlier this season, it seemed fairly clear that Jonathan Papelbon was no longer an elite closer.

Red Sox Nation was waiting for Papelbon to take a significant step forward in an attempt to prove that his disastrous 2010 season was a fluke.

Some may have wondered if the once-dominant closer would ever take such a step, but Papelbon is starting to pitch like an elite reliever again, and it’s coinciding with the first contract year of his Major League career.

The right-hander is 4-0 with a 3.14 ERA after converting his 21st consecutive save on Tuesday night in a 4-3 win over the Twins. He is now 26-for-27 in save opportunities this season.

Papelbon hasn’t allowed an earned run since July 16th in a game against the Rays, and to say that he’s been dominant during this recent stretch would be a major understatement.

The righty has thrown 11 straight scoreless innings since that outing, allowing just two hits while walking none and striking out 12. For the last three weeks, he’s been arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball.

His WHIP is finally under one again (where it used to routinely reside) and the righty is beginning to resemble the pitcher that dominated the American League before his disappointing campaign in 2010.

Papelbon is headed for free agency at the conclusion of the season and a lucrative, long-term contract is becoming a much higher probability for the 30-year-old than it was a month ago.

He has rebounded from a year in which he blew more saves (8) than almost every reliever in baseball to post the second best success rate in the A.L. (behind only Jose Valverde who is 32-for-32 this year).

The Mets gave Francisco Rodriguez a three-year deal worth $37 million prior to the 2009 season, and Papelbon likely won’t see that kind of offer this winter. But with the way he’s trending recently, it’s at least a possibility that he’ll come close.

Whether or not it’s the Red Sox that shell out the money to Papelbon this winter is anyone’s guess, but for now, the organization has the hottest reliever in baseball pitching for a contract.

Many feel that there is no such thing as a bad one-year contract in baseball, and the Sox are currently subscribing to that belief.

Alastair Ingram is the featured Boston Red Sox columnist for RantSports.com. For daily updates, follow him on Twitter at @AlastairIngram, follow the blog at @FenwayReport, and join the fan page on Facebook.