The Yankees have been starved for an ace starting pitcher all season long. Lately, James Paxton has finally started to cure that weakness for New York.
For much of the season, Big Maple has pitched like a big disappointment to Yankees fans. Lately, James Paxton has picked up his game considerably. Now he could easily head into the postseason as the rotation ace that Aaron Boone’s team desperately needs.
There’s never been a legitimate question about the Canadian lefty’s talent level, but his performance in pinstripes has been mediocre for most of the season. The Yankees acquired him to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Instead, his ERA hovered just under 5.00 throughout the first half of the season. That caused many fans in the Bronx to wonder whether or not Paxton had the emotional makeup to thrive under the bright lights of New York.
Fortunately for everyone associated with the Yankees, Paxton has been electric during his last seven starts. He’s won all seven of the outings for his team while pitching to a sterling ERA of 2.98. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s managed to strike out 51 hitters in just over 42 innings pitched during that stretch.
That proves Paxton isn’t benefiting from any sort of fluke downturn in BABIP or anything of the like. He’s pitching like a dominant ace. The towering southpaw’s fastball suddenly seems to have more life on it when it hits the zone in the mid to upper-90s. Perhaps more importantly, his breaking ball seems to be giving hitters even more trouble when it falls off the table.
The significance of Paxton’s recent uptick in form is massive to the Yankees. Their one glaring weakness heading into the postseason appears to be the starting rotation. Finding three pitchers worthy of trust in a playoff series still looks to be a significant challenge for the organization. Clearly, Paxton seizing one of those spots for his own will greatly reduce the pressure on Boone and company to identify starters to round out the rotation behind him.
The key for Paxton will be to keep his momentum going as the team approaches October. Don’t be surprised if the team gives him some extra rest as the playoffs near. The Yankees want to finish with the best record in MLB to secure home field advantage, but it’s more important to enter the postseason with fresh, healthy arms. Paxton is absolutely a guy who the organization will coddle down the stretch if they see any troubling signs of fatigue.
If Paxton can keep throwing the ball this effectively, it could change the complexion of the Yankees drastically when the playoffs begin. He won’t suddenly elevate this rotation to equal the talent the Astros can throw out on the mound, but Paxton can close the gap significantly. That could be the difference between a parade down the Canyon of Heroes and an early playoff exit for this year’s edition of the Bronx Bombers.