The 2014 Seattle Mariners have won more games than the 2013 Seattle Mariners. This is notable in part because hey, improvement, and in part because it’s still August. This team has been roughly four and a half weeks better than last year’s team, one could then say. Does that make sense? Anyways, the Mariners won 5-0 last night and James Paxton is incredible.
Before this turns into a full-on Paxton Appreciation Post, let’s recount the other half of why the Mariners won last night. Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the first, and as it happened that was all the team needed. But they also clogged up the bases in the second and scored on a Jesus Sucre groundout. They added three more in the fourth on an Endy Chavez two-run double and a Dustin Ackley RBI single. So that’s where the “five” part of the box score came from. Now onto the “nothing.”
Paxton, along with Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker, were long considered to be some kind of three-headed pitching monster perched way atop the M’s organizational top prospect rankings. Over the years it became clear Walker’s star shone the brightest, while Hultzen shredded his shoulder and disappeared. Paxton, then, became oft-associated with the word “reliever” and began his slide down the prospect lists. Nobody was saying he sucked, but hardly anybody was saying he was going to be an ace.
Look at James Paxton now. Make no mistake, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s definitely not an ace right now. Right now, Paxton has started eleven Major League Baseball games over the course of one year. His career ERA is 1.71, which is the lowest for a starting pitcher over the first eleven starts of his career in twenty-four years. It’s been decades since a rookie started his career with such a streak of good results.
Against the Texas Rangers, Paxton went 6.2 innings and allowed no runs. Danny Farquhar pitched the remaining 2.1 and was absolutely lights-out himself, but he’s a known quantity. We’re familiar with Farquhar as an elite reliever. But if Paxton is an elite starter, well, that’s something we’re going to have to prepare our brains for going forward.
Paxton didn’t get a ton of strikeouts, with four on the evening. Throw in his three walks and this starts to look more and more like a Chris Young start. But Paxton dominated despite not having control of the zone, and he did it by avoiding hard contact almost entirely. There were flyball outs that died well short of the track. There were grounders that never stood a chance of leaving the infield. You can learn a lot about a pitcher when you watch them succeed without their best stuff. This was Paxton thriving, not surviving.
James Paxton was always a top prospect being overshadowed by his peers. But the minor leagues only give us tools with which to guess at what’s to come at the major league level. What it looks like is that Paxton, at the major league level, has a chance of being sustainably awesome. And that’s just about the best-case scenario for any prospect.
Erasmo Ramirez vs. Colby Lewis is next up, and would you look at that, it’s today, at 12:40pm. Ramirez is what he is, and Lewis is suffering through a wreck of a season. This game is still crucial, of course, as the gap between Seattle and Detroit is still only half a game. After the Rangers come the Nationals, and the Nationals are a whole hell of a lot better than the Rangers. Going from the AL’s worst to the NL’s best won’t be easy, and it’d be a relief to take this series before moving on to the next one.