It has turned into a broken record, but never has a broken record sounded so sweet to Washington baseball fans. The Nationals won another series Wednesday night, their ninth straight series won, matching a franchise record.
And what a series it was, a tense, compelling, 3-day event at Wrigley Field that saw the Nats win 2-1, the Cubs win 3-2 and then the Nats finish it off with a 3-0 win that felt much closer than the final score appeared.
It's rare that a baseball series sees all the big-name stars rise to the occasion, but it happened in this one. Kris Bryant homered twice. So did Bryce Harper. Max Scherzer and Jon Lester engaged in a fantastic pitchers' duel. Addison Russell provided a walk-off hit for Chicago.
Here's what stood out from Wednesday night's Nationals victory...
MAX SCHERZER IS EVEN BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT HE'D BE
You knew the Nationals were getting one of the better pitchers in baseball when they gave him $210 million in January, a hard-throwing strikeout artist with a Cy Young Award on his mantel. But you probably didn't appreciate just how good of a pitcher he was.
You do now. Scherzer has exceeded the loftiest expectations, and Wednesday night's performance was among his best to date. Over seven brilliant, scoreless innings, he scattered four singles, a double and a walk while striking out 13.
Only two other pitchers in Nationals history have struck out 13 batters in a game: Stephen Strasburg (who fanned 14 in his MLB debut, then notched 13 K's on two other occasions) and John Patterson (who did it in 2005 and again in 2006).
Overall, Scherzer is now 6-3 with a 1.51 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 10 walks in 10 starts. How good is that? Well, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three pitchers in modern history have ever posted an ERA that low with that many strikeouts in their first 10 starts of a season: Pedro Martinez (1997 and 2000) and Randy Johnson (2000). That's some elite company.
And yet the numbers only tell part of the story, because Scherzer has stood out not only for the end results he has produced but the manner in which he has produced those results. Plain and simple, the guy knows how to pitch. Wednesday was a fantastic example of that, with Scherzer throwing 93-94 mph early on, then suddenly ramping it up to 97-98 mph to notch several of his strikeouts.
BRYCE HARPER HIT ANOTHER OPPOSITE-FIELD HOMER (HO-HUM)
Yeah, yeah, we've seen plenty of these now. What's the big deal anymore? The big deal is that he continues to do it.
The overall power numbers are bordering on the insane. Harper now has 18 homers in 47 games (that's a 62-homer pace, for the arithmetically challenged) and 13 homers in May. How good is that? Well, Harper how out-homered both the Phillies and Braves so far this month, and he only trails the White Sox, Royals and Padres by three.
Not a large enough sample for you? OK, let's go back a ways, all the way back to Aug. 25, 2014. That's 81 games ago, counting the postseason. Harper's totals during those 81 games: 27 homers, 54 RBI, 53 walks, a .314 batting average, .423 on-base percentage, .657 slugging percentage and 1.080 OPS.
But let's get back to Wednesday's homer, an opposite-field shot off Lester. That was Harper's seventh opposite-field homer of the season. How many is that? Well, among the proven, major-league sluggers who haven't hit seven total homers this year (to all sides of the field) are David Ortiz, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Matt Holliday.
CASEY JANSSEN PROVED HE KNOWS HOW TO PITCH
If you had been wondered why the Nationals went out and got Janssen over the winter, this was your first real opportunity to find out.
Given the ball with two on, nobody out and Bryant at the plate in the eighth inning of a 2-run game, the veteran reliever took the mound and put on a clinic. Janssen got Bryant to popup, made a fantastic play on Dexter Fowler's bunt to the right of the mound and got Starlin Castro to ground out to short.
Janssen did all this with an 88-mph fastball. How? By locating it. He threw eight of his 12 pitches for strikes, but more importantly he threw 10 of those 12 pitches below the belt.
That's called pitching, and that's why the Nationals have been anticipating Janssen's delayed debut for some time.