All bets are off tonight as Andrew Cashner (9-3) faces off against James Paxton (5-5) in game two of this weekend’s four game set between the Red Sox and Yankees.  And I say this as a Red Sox fan still savoring the heady potency of last night’s 19-3 drubbing of the Yankees like a finely aged Amarone. So I’ll amend: all bets should be off, because if anyone tells you they know how this one’s going to go, they’re selling something.

Take Paxton.  In his lone start against the Red Sox this season, Paxton was breathing-fire dominant: 8 innings, two hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts.  Of course, one could argue (and I do) that the team Paxton faced then, on April 16th, isn’t the team Paxton’s going to face tonight.  Entering play on April 16th, the Red Sox were 6-11, had a starting pitching ERA in the low thousands, and were 20th in the league in runs per game.  Tonight, the Red Sox are 10 games above .500, 2nd in the league (by a mere hundredth of a run) in runs scored per game, and sport a pitching staff that is, for the most part, whole, even if it isn’t all that great.  

Paxton?  Well, on May 5th, he landed on the IL with a sore knee, and after his return, hasn’t looked quite as dominant as he was on that fateful day all the way back in April.  Since he’s come back, Paxton hasn’t lasted more than 6 innings in any start, and has gone more than five innings only four times, though, it should be said, three out of those four times have come this July.  Now, of those starts of more than five innings, those being 7/2 at the Mets and 7/7 and 7/15  against the Rays, he went 6 innings each time, giving up only 5 runs total over that span.  That’s good for a sub-three ERA, though the near-four FIP suggests he did get a tad lucky.  All that’s fine, but his last time out, he ran into a buzzsaw at the Stadium against Colorado, giving up 7 runs, 4 of them earned, en-route to a mere 3 1/3 innings of work.  That’s generally decent, but up and down, work, and all of it’s a far cry from the job he did against the Sox in April.  So while we might not be able to pinpoint exactly which Paxton will show up tonight, it’s a safe bet we’re probably not looking at getting blanked over eight.  Hopefully.  Knock wood, people.

Which, of course, brings us to Cashner.  Now, I’m not saying Andrew Cashner is a plant by the Orioles sent to Boston in order to exact revenge for the season-long beating the Sox laid on Baltimore in 2018, but I will say this: in his first two starts with Boston, he hasn’t exactly impressed.  Two losses, 10 runs allowed, 9 earned, with an ERA and FIP both over 7.  Oof.  Compared to his performance in Baltimore (where he sported a sub-four ERA), he’s really gone off the rails, but that said, is it really all that much worse than whatever else Boston’s had out of the five spot this year? Now, the one thing Cashner has given the Red Sox in his last couple starts is a little length.  In his (lackluster, but brief) time in Boston, Cashner’s gone at least five innings each time out, a marked improvement, generally, over Boston’s No. 5 starters to date.  And in that alone, Cashner might be serving his purpose: giving the Red Sox a little more length than they would have otherwise had out of a soft spot in the rotation, saving the bullpen just a bit, and maybe (please) sprinkling in a couple wins in for good measure.  

Which brings us back to tonight.  Maybe Cashner uses his four-pitch attack to keep the Yanks off-balance just enough so that the Red Sox don’t have the doors blown off the hinges by the third inning.  Maybe he goes six, leaves with a two run lead, and hands it over to Eovaldi & Co., who close the door and help Boston start to put the tiniest bit of pressure on New York in the division.  Or maybe the fifth spot in Boston’s rotation is cursed and Cashner gives us more of the same.  And sure, Boston’s offense could explode again, but so could New York’s. So: all things considered, and given Cashner’s recent performances and Paxton’s track-record against Boston, I’m giving the edge to the Yanks tonight.  I hope I’m wrong.