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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