Keidel: Paxton Making Compelling Case To Be A Game 1 Starter

Yankees Lefty Has Won Last 8 Starts

Jason Keidel
September 10, 2019 - 1:01 pm
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If the Yankees fail to win the World Series, we won't look back and say the 2019 season crashed because of Mike Tauchman, one of the many fine seeds that keep sprouting up from the Yankees' endless harvest of players. 

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But if the Yanks do win their first Fall Classic in a decade, it could be because they finally found an ace. 

Tauchman, who has an injured calf, accounts for one of the dozens of trips to the injured list this year for the Bombers, who keep replacing lovely players with lovelier players. What makes these Yankees so hard to handle is the fact that they don't rely on one position player, not even Aaron Judge. Their lineup has been festooned with a Tauchman, Mike Ford or Gio Urshela all season. The only thing more amazing than its nearly 40 separate stints on the IL is the club's ability to fill those holes with equally fine replacements. (And only Yankees fans will complain about being forced to insert the 2017 National League MVP, who also clubbed 38 home runs and notched 100 RBIs for the Bombers in 2018.)

No matter the musical chairs they play with the lineup, the Yankees have never been able to solve the one puzzle that could derail them in October: finding a fireballing pitcher to start -- and end -- a playoff series. 

James Paxton
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

That question might have been answered Monday night. Not only did the Yankees flatten the Red Sox, taking three of four at Fenway while booting Boston from any chance at winning the AL East, but they seem to have found the leading man in their rotation. 

James Paxton has been a late-summer marvel. Not only did the Yankees bag 14 of 19 games from the BoSox -- the most wins against their rivals since 1960 -- but Paxton once again hammered the nail into an opponent's coffin. After pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings, Paxton won his eighth straight start, fueling a career-best 13 wins so far this season. 

Over his last eight starts, Paxton has yielded 14 runs in 49 innings for a 2.57 ERA. Consider how hard he's whipped his season into form. Paxton posted a 6.38 ERA in 10 starts over June and July, and his ERA was up 4.72 after losing to Boston on July 26. He has since lowered it to his current 3.96 ERA. He has yet to give up a run in September, over 13 2/3 innings pitched. 

For the longest time, we assumed that if the Yanks were to play this season sans Luis Severino, who has not made a start this season, then Masahiro Tanaka would take the bump to begin October. And why not? Few Yankees hurlers are more hardened than Tanaka, who has a 1.50 ERA over five starts in the postseason. But Tanaka hasn't been his rugged best this year, allowing at least four earned runs 11 times in 29 starts. On June 22, he had a 3.21 ERA, which has since ballooned to a 4.53 ERA for the season. In September, Tanaka has pitched to a 5.40 ERA. 

The Yanks adore CC Sabathia and all he's been and bled in pinstripes, but at his age, he's just too brittle to be a pitching pillar this October. J.A. Happ has never been seriously considered a frontline starter for a World Series run. Which leaves Domingo German, who has a sterling 17-4 record this year. Not only was German the only pitcher to lose to Boston over the last four games, but he's also watched his 3.38 ERA on July 19 mushroom to 4.21 over his last 10 starts. 

Maybe Severino gets back just in time for the playoffs. But he will have way too much rust for the team to tag him to open a series. So it's a choice between German, who anchored the rotation the first-half of the season; or Paxton, who has shouldered the pitching load since Aug. 2. Paxton is proving that he's the guy. 

There's no correlation between injured players and surging pitchers. But as the Yanks battered Boston so thoroughly that the Red Sox sacked their general manager, took the most games from the Sox in a season since the Tigers in 1973 and found their unquestioned ace for an AL Division Series, it's hard to imagine that Mike Tauchman will be the difference between playoff failure and the Yankees' 28th world championship.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.