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Another Scherzian start reminds us why Max Scherzer is the favorite in the Cy Young

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Another Scherzian start reminds us why Max Scherzer is the favorite in the Cy Young

Entering Saturday’s start over Chicago, Max Scherzer was looking for his first win in four starts. 

Not what is forecasted from a pitcher looking to win his third straight Cy Young. Two no-decisions and a loss against Philadelphia had the Nationals' ace reeling, along with the rest of the team. It was the second longest stretch without a win for him this year.

Raise the odds against the Chicago Cubs and the right-hander delivered a Scherzian performance. Going the distance for the first time since April and only the second time in 2018, he struck out 11 with nearly 75 percent of his pitches being strikes. It was the 16th time this year that Scherzer reached double digit strikeouts.

This is what has become the expectation for the No. 1 pitcher on the depth chart. Getting late into a game and despite him giving out nine hits and three runs, not allowing any hope to course through the opponents' bats.

There was not a point where Chicago had the edge on Scherzer. After allowing a hit in the first, he proceeded to retire 15 straight batters. 

That is exactly how one wins the Cy Young. He did it in 2016 and 2017. Comparatively, this year could be deceptively better than both of those. Although it will be a tall task to reach the 20 wins he got in 2016 (currently sitting at 17-6), Scherzer surpassed his strikeout total from a year ago, and he has the best ERA by 20 points in his career.

Will it be good enough though? A 17-6 record, 2.31 ERA, 271 strikeouts with 12 strikeouts per nine innings on a team that resides with a losing record may not give him the edge.

Without a question, there is not a more dominant pitcher in the National League. Scherzer leads in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, batting average against, WHIP and strikeouts per nine.

The only problem is that no pitcher from a non-playoff team in the National League has won since R.A. Dickey in 2012. Yes, the same year that Gio Gonzalez was wronged.

That shouldn’t make a difference for Scherzer, but it potentially will.

There are two others in the race: Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola (better record –16-4) and the Mets’ Jacob de Grom (better ERA – 1.68). Both have been vital for their team in 2018, one could argue they hold more value to their team than the three-time Cy Young winner was to the Nats.

Scherzer does have the benefit of the other three not currently sitting in the postseason either. Nola’s Phillies are still 4.5 games out of both the Wild Card and NL East.

However, Philadelphia will play Atlanta in seven contests before the final five teams are determined. Nola is sure to get them three starts in that time. Give him a division championship and Scherzer could be unseated by a 25 year old. It also does not help Scherzer that Nola had the better performance in their two head-to-heads in August.

Putting in his work, Scherzer should add a fourth Cy Young to name in the offseason. If the Nationals were in the postseason, this would be locked up. With the Nationals out of the race, if there is a postseason battle anyone should watch, seeing if Philadelphia makes a run will be it.


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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

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Will the 2019 and 2020 free-agent classes stir things up the way this one hasn’t?

There’s an old Magnum, P.I. episode called “Home at Sea”. Magnum has been knocked off his surf ski after a too-close speedboat zips by, leaving him alone to survive in the water. His mind wanders. Flashbacks from childhood, the war, and his family, fill his head. He’s treading water and waiting.

Things are not life-and-death severe during this offseason as the baseball world wades through what has become the sigh-inducing drudgery of free agency. But, big names remain unsigned, reduced to sending out social media pings via a hat (Manny Machado seen in the background of a video in a White Sox lid) or tweet (Bryce Harper having fun with everyone’s emotions by making weather jokes or referencing Tony Romo’s prognostication abilities).

What we don’t have — yet — are results. Everyone is just treading water. Which leads to thoughts beyond today. In particular, the coming free agents in 2019 and 2020.

This class was supposed to be epic. Harper, Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson. Cy Young and MVP winners along with young, generational talents. A mix rarely, if ever, seen before.

(Jose Fernandez, the talented young pitcher in Miami, was also expected to play a major role in this free agency class before he tragically died in 2016 at the age of 24.)

Instead, ongoing shrugs and muted exuberance have met this market, which gives next year a chance to deliver comparative heat. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, J.D. Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, Gerritt Cole, Chris Sale, Kenley Jansen, Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner could all be available. Even Stephen Strasburg could join them in the unlikely situation he exercises his first opt-out.

That grouping would be more well-rounded than the current top-heavy one. It also could suffer from the same lack of investment occurring now, which has already begun underground rumblings about the pending fight between players and owners once the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

Several things need to align in order for the 2019-20 free agency crowd to be awash in such prominent names. Martinez, Jansen and Strasburg would have to opt-out. Rendon would need to make it through the season without signing a contract extension in Washington, something both sides are working on and open to.

Though, if everyone hits, around-the-diamond needs will be filled.

Need a third baseman? The best and arguably second-best are available.

Need a top-of-the-rotation starter? Sale, Bumgarner, Verlander and Cole are there. 

Need a reliever? Jansen or Dellin Betances would be there.

The class also has interesting middle depth: Yasiel Puig, Khris Davis, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, Brett Gardner, Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, Jose Abreu, Ryan Zimmerman (if the Nationals do not pick up his $18 million option). 

Another monster class hits the following year. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jacob deGrom can become free agents after the 2020 season. George Springer, Robbie Ray, James Paxton and J.T. Realmuto are also in the mix. Even Giancarlo Stanton could hop in by opting out, though who would want to leave that contract?

Languishing negotiations from Harper and Machado have led us here, treading water and wondering what’s to come. It at least sounds interesting. We’ll see if it turns out to be so.


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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

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Baseball Hall of Fame Results 2019: Rivera makes history with first ever unanimous induction

The question coming in was this: three or four?

Two locks were set to be voted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday: Legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who became the first player to be named on 100 percent of the ballots cast, and starting pitcher Roy Halladay, both first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Seattle’s Edgar Martinez was expected to finally make it. He did with 85.4 percent of the vote.

That left Mike Mussina, 49 votes short last year, to hold his breath this time. He made it, narrowly, with 76.7 percent.

Mussina spent spent 10 years in Baltimore chasing 20 wins and providing annual durability before joining the New York Yankees for eight more seasons. Longevity and consistency keyed his entrance into the Hall of Fame. Mussina made 30 or more starts 12 times on his way to a career 123 ERA-plus. Only three times across almost two decades was Mussina’s ERA-plus below league average. All that work allowed him to compile 3,562 ⅔ innings pitched, 2,813 strikeouts and a 1.192 WHIP.

Rivera dominated the league with a single signature pitch, his cutter, for 19 years. His preferred music of “Enter Sandman” ran counter to Rivera’s pleasant and forthcoming demeanor off the field. He viewed the accidental discovery of his cutter as a gift from God, which made him willing to share information about the pitch with whomever asked. The slim right-hander anchored one of baseball’s great winning runs while with the Yankees. Rivera is a 13-time All-Star who owns five World Series rings. His 205 career ERA-plus is an all-time record as is his 652 saves, which is more than 50 ahead of second place and a record unlikely to be broken.

The wait, and push, for Martinez was extensive. Martinez find himself at the core of an ongoing debate about Hall of Fame candidacy for designated hitters. He didn’t become a full-time player in the major leagues until age 27. He was perpetually on base from there until his age-41 season, delivering a career OPS of .933 and on-base percentage of .418. Martinez walked more than he struck out 10 times in his 18-year career, finishing with more bases on balls than whiffs. Seattle denizens long pushed for his conclusion. It took the maximum 10 years, but Martinez is finally in.

Halladay’s inclusion is a bittersweet moment. The right-hander died Nov. 7, 2017, when a small plane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He previously told reporters his possible Hall of Fame induction would be a “tremendous honor.” Halladay twice won the Cy Young award — once in each league — made eight All-Star teams, and finished with a 3.38 ERA. He also threw a perfect game and in 2010 became the second pitcher in history to throw a postseason no-hitter.

The central characters from baseball’s so-called “steroid era” remain on the outside. Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) in his seventh ballot and Barry Bonds (59.1 percent) remain well below the 75 percent threshold for enshrinement following slight increases from 2018 voting. Curt Schilling (60.9 percent) and Larry Walker (54.6 percent) also moved up significantly in year-over-year voting. Fred McGriff moved up in his final year on the ballot, however remained well short. He should get in when considered by the Today’s Game Era Committee based on their recent selection of Harold Baines.