James Paxton Throws Another Gem, Sets Stage For Duel Of Aces


Maybe in five years everyone will say they saw it coming. They liked James Paxton‘s odds, they’ll tell you, even when the world was wondering out loud if maybe the young lefty profiled better as a reliever than a starter despite his prospect shine.

Perhaps the big prospect guys will insistently suggest that they knew all along Paxton would be the most successful of Seattle’s vaunted “big three.” Or maybe nobody will say anything because Paxton’s career ERA will still be well under two and Felix Hernandez will be starting the second game of the season each year for the Seattle Mariners.

Paxton could simply continue to leave us speechless.

Okay, so we know this won’t keep up. We know there’s still time for Taijuan Walker and even Danny Hultzen to prove themselves as worthy big league starters. But Paxton’s here now, and he’s succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and it’s easy to remember that he was considered the least likely of the three to make the kind of impact that he’s currently making. This we can enjoy.

Paxton didn’t really go for the strikeouts during yesterday’s 7.2 inning, two-run masterpiece. In fact, by walking two batters in the eighth he finished with more bases on balls (three) than punchouts (two). But he had the Oakland Athletics pounding the ball into the ground, failing to really punish any of his heaters. Which, by the way, were coming in around 97 miles per hour. Paxton is a lefty starter who can command his 97 mile-per-hour fastball.

That’s the secret weapon the M’s get to utilize down the stretch.

We just got to spend back-to-back days watching Walker and Paxton have outings that affirmed their talents to the viewing public. There’s plenty that’s almost as exciting as watching young power arms dominate at the major league level, but nothing quite compares to this. These guys are good. Young, unproven, and good.

The M’s got two in the third on an Austin Jackson single, two in the fourth on an Endy Chavez grounder-in-the-dirt-turned-double-up-the-middle, and two in the fifth on a Kyle Seager homer. The man responsible for allowing all those runs? Sonny Gray, who had previously done nothing but smother the Mariners. The young ace had one of his worst outings of the season, and it was the Seattle Mariners who were responsible for it. That’s incredible. The Mariners!

Not that the Mariners didn’t try to give it all back. Three runs scored in the eighth, with Fernando Rodney yielding a pair in the ninth, too. The game ended with the tying run in scoring position, but that’s just the way Rodney likes it. He’s into the drama. He doesn’t want any boring “clean” saves. He lives for the insanity.

We can live with that, most of the time.

Felix Hernandez vs. Jon Lester. Oakland gets to use an ace starter, again, while the Mariners finally get to play their trump card. Felix’s history of September struggles cropped up a few weeks early this year, as he’s been positively mortal his last few outings (including his putrid game against Washington over the weekend). Lester’s kept on keeping on, and the two enter the day tied for the AL pitcher WAR lead. Felix’s advantage in many a statistical category has started to dwindle, in some cases disappearing altogether.

But ask yourself who’s the better talent, and you’ll immediately answer Felix. That’s probably the correct answer, even if it hasn’t seemed true for a week or two now. But Felix’s past Septembers don’t dictate how this September will go, and that’s critically important to keep in mind. Odds are Felix will be good, because he is good. But that doesn’t mean we should totally dismiss that he recently has struggled closing out a long season.

A win today goes a long way. It means no more ground lost – and maybe some ground gained! – in a wild card chase that only gets wilder by the day. It means taking advantage of the league’s best pitcher. It means getting under the skin of a potentiall playoff opponent and division rival. It would be nice to win, is all I’m saying. It’d always be nice to win.