When James Paxton handed the ball off to manager Aaron Boone after yet another solid start on Monday, he may have walked off the Fenway Park diamond as the Yankees' Game 1 ALDS starter.
Of course, Boone and the Yankees still have time to think about that, but with the way Paxton has been pitching -- and how the Yankees hit when he's on the mound -- it seems like the right choice to make.
Paxton pitched to the tune of no runs allowed on four hits and three walks while striking out seven over 6.2 innings of work. His previous outing was even better with just one hit allowed with 12 strikeouts over seven innings against the Rangers in the Bronx.
The Yankees have been the winners of Paxton's last eight starts. And his numbers during that span? A 2.57 ERA with a .170 opponent batting average and 58 strikeouts to 18 walks over 49 innings.
Now, there is Masahiro Tanaka to consider for that Game 1 start when it comes time to officially label the starter. Domingo German would likely be their third starter after how he's pitched this season, and maybe J.A. Happ can be the fourth starter if he continues outings like he has in his previous two starts. But they shouldn't be considered for that top role.
Tanaka has been in that role for years with the Yankees now, getting the ball in the 2015 Wild Card game and the Game 1 start in the 2017 ALCS against the Astros. He also has a dominant 1.50 ERA in his postseason career (five starts).
However, Tanaka has been more inconsistent than normal this season, as he's been struggling to find control that devastating splitter. After tossing a 12-run dud to the Red Sox back on July 25, Tanaka has rebounded to the tune of a 3.86 ERA over his last eight starts. Not too shabby, but with a .270 opponent average over 46.2 innings, Paxton's numbers have been better.
Also, the Yankees will need to consider the matchup they'll have in the ALDS. Right now, the Astros and Yankees own the same 95-50 record, so that could change. But let's say the Twins, the AL Central leaders, would be the matchup based on the tiebreakers. Paxton doesn't have a big sample size against them, pitching just three innings back in May before leaving with an injury. But Tanaka hasn't pitched against the Twins this season, so the edge should go to Paxton.
The two Wild Card teams at the moment -- Rays and A's -- has Paxton pitching to a 3.00 ERA against Tampa and never facing Oakland. Tanaka, though, allowed five runs in his one starts against the A's on Aug. 22. He has been solid against the Rays with a 1.59 ERA over four starts.
Tanaka does have the experience in the postseason, while Paxton has yet to play in a playoff series. However, the big lefty is red hot on the mound right now, and GM Brian Cashman did trade for him in the hopes that he would develop into a potential ace for this team.
That's what Paxton's done in this home stretch, and if that continues to finish his first regular season with the Yankees, his first postseason appearance should be on the mound for Game 1 in the ALDS.