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Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays

Monday Morning Brushback: Just When I Thought I Was Out...

The Red Sox week in review dives into James Paxton, Connor Wong, and the All-Star Game.

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

...they pull me back in.

What a weird goddamn team, man. The 2023 Boston Red Sox make zero (0) sense. The same team that’s 11-1 against the Yankees and Blue Jays can’t buy a win against the National League Central, which is probably the second worst division in baseball. After starting the week prior hot and ending it on a cold stretch, they start this past week cold and end it on a hot streak. Make it make sense!

At this point, I think I might just steer into the skid. Whatever happens with this team just happens. There’s no use getting excited about a hot stretch because they’ll just poop their pants the next week, and there’s no use getting upset about poopy pants behavior because they’ll just set the world on fire the next week. They keep refusing to elaborate on their ever-changing nature. It’s true sigma male behavior, I almost have to respect it.

Just enjoy the absurdity of it all and hope for the best.

It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.

James Helps Out a (Pax)Ton

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Following his injury scare the previous weekend against the Pale Hose, James Paxton merrily rolled along in Boston’s Friday night win against Toronto. Big Maple was able to stop the club’s bleeding by working into the eighth inning while surrendering just a trio of hits, a pair of walks, and a donut in the earned runs column. He added seven strikeouts as well, in case you needed any additional convincing about how well he’s been tossing the cowhide.

Outside of his start against the Angels on May 24, Paxton’s been outstanding on the bump for the Red Sox. This weekend’s gem brought his ERA on the season down to 2.70 and his WHIP down to 0.96 over 50 frames. He’s truly been fantastic, offering some stability in a rotation that’s been topsy turvy (word to Quasimodo and Alan Menken) since Opening Day.

When I peak under the hood with Paxton, the thing that jumps out to me is the fastball velocity; his heater is clocking in at a hair just under 96 MPH on average. He hasn’t done that since his last full season of work in 2019, during his tenure with the Seattle Mariners. He’s throwing that four-seamer almost 60% of the time, lending itself to being a good set-up for his secondary offerings (just like any good pitcher should; that’s not necessarily breaking any new ground, of course). Both the cutter and the curveball from Paxton are initiating crappy contact from opposing hitters—batters are logging a sub-.200 expected batting average and a sub-.300 expected slugging percentage, according to handy dandy Baseball Savant.

The elephant in the room regarding Paxton remains his future with the club. He’s set to hit free agency after 2023, and at age 35 (with a kid also expected to be born this week—congrats to the Paxton family) he’s probably going to be looking to secure one more baggaroni and cheese—as he rightfully should. Boston this season is...well, you know how they are: consistently inconsistent, to put it diplomatically. They look ready to nip at the heels of the wild card competitors one minute, and they look completely lost the next.

That on-again off-again dynamic will probably be fresh in the front office’s collective mind come August 1, the upcoming trade deadline. Our very own Jacob Roy recently pointed out that there’s no use in just renting guys at the deadline to make a push that would likely not lead to much of anything by season’s end.

Simply put: it’s getting close to decision time, especially regarding Big Maple. Do the Red Sox flip him to another team in the hunt for a deep run in October? Does the team risk losing him for nothing? Are they confident they can reach a reasonable agreement with the lefty on a new contract? Do they roll the dice on offering that extension to a guy who’s closer to 40 than 30 with some unfortunate injury history?

I......don’t know, to be honest. That’s an evergreen state of mind for yours truly, but I digress.

If the Sox are circling the drain by the end of this month, it would probably be best for all parties if Paxton is traded. The trade package in return could be a nice one, considering he’s a southpaw pitching well on short money. If the team can fight back into the serious playoff conversation (big qualifier, I know), they’re gonna need some reliable arms atop that rotation; Brayan Bello is just one man, after all, and Garrett Whitlock could end up missing a big chunk of time after leaving Sunday’s start early with right elbow tightness. My guess would be that Paxton is flipped if the club can’t climb out of the abyss that is .500 baseball, but that’s all it is: a guess.

For now, let’s enjoy watching Paxton slice for Boston while we still can.

Wong’s Job to Lose

Boston Red Sox v. Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Thomas Skrlj/MLB Photos via Getty Images

While Connor Wong won’t be confused for Mike Piazza at the plate (that strikeout with the bases juiced in the sixth inning Sunday afternoon was no bueno), his work behind it has been great thus far in his young career.

With just over half of the season over, Wong’s defensive WAR sat at 1.3 entering Sunday’s action, according to Baseball Reference. That’s good for seventh in all of baseball—not just for catchers, but for errrrrrrrrbody. Only Arizona’s Gabriel Moreno can boast a higher dWAR as a catcher so far this season.

Much of Wong’s defensive acumen has come thanks to his ability to throw runners out trying to steal second base. The absolute cannon he’s got attached to his shoulder certainly helps the cause, as does his impressive reaction time; only four catchers have a quicker pop time to second base on average than Wong’s 1.89 seconds. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that he’s thrown damn near 40% of runners out in 2023—once again, that’s among MLB’s best, as Savant also has Wong tied for the best in da leeeeeeeague when it comes to Caught Stealing Above Average.

With the bigger bases and new rules that incentivize more thieves on the base paths, having a catcher that tosses freakin’ darts is quite valuable. You’ve gotta keep runners honest and out of scoring position. If Wong can even tread water on offense—just don’t be an unmitigated disaster, my friend—I think the role of backstop is his to lose going forward.

Hey Now, He’s An All-Star

Red Sox vs Angels Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald

Congrats to Kenley Jansen on his selection to the All-Star Game!

*whispers* I think if we’re talking strictly bullpen guys, Chris Martin has been more deserving. But it is what it is.

Seriously though: if we’re talking the best of the best, Chris Martin has been better than Kenley Jansen. That’s just a fact, Jack. Kenley hasn’t been awful—it’s just that Martin’s been stellar. Try a 258 ERA+ on for size, then try telling me that Coldplay sucks!

Fuck it, random Coldplay drop.

I’m surprised Rafael Devers didn’t get the nod. I know that there’s only so many spots, but Raf’s star power is notable enough, his OPS is still well enough over .800, and he’s fourth in the bigs in RBI. That’s gotta count for something, no?

In any event, I do appreciate that MLB has at least one representative for each team in the league. The league should be working to make sure every fan has at least one reason to watch one of their marquee events of the year. It’s an event that’s supposed to be fun—I say make it fun for everyone.

Besides: how else would we be able to call Brock Holt an All-Star?

Baseball fandom is better when you’re able to include more people into the melting pot. I saw it when I went to Cooperstown for Big Papi’s Hall of Fame induction last summer: Red Sox fans mingling with Yankees fans, Dodgers and Giants fans getting along, you name it. It’s a “if you get it, you get it” type of deal, get it? We all have our own memories of the sport, but it’s that mutual understanding and that shared experience that can connect us through it. That’s why it’s so fun naming random players from two decades ago (remember John Halama?).

Song Of The Week: “Growing Pains” by Coin

If you don’t know about Coin, do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself. Bangers on bangers on bangers.

Until next week, my friends! Go Sox.

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