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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts

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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts

 

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer may be baseball’s final entrant into the 3,000-strikeout club.

 

Sounds weird to say. The mark is a vaunted one and previously a measuring stick for Hall-of-Fame candidacy. That was before a shift to fewer innings by starters from the time they are young. 

 Friday night, Scherzer climbed into 27th on the all-time list. He passed legacy names Warren Spahn and Bob Feller thanks to another 10-strikeout outing.

“Sweet,” Scherzer said when informed of the movement. “Let’s keep going.”Scherzer is 35 years old, in his 12th season and has 2,585 strikeouts. He’s on pace for 297 total this season -- if he makes his typical 33 starts. Hitting that mark would put him at 2,756 at the end of the year. He would be 24th all-time at that stage and a standard season away from cracking 3,000. Justin Verlander will beat Scherzer to the mark, making Scherzer the 19th pitcher all-time to strikeout 3,000 or more should he get there. CC Sabathia surpassed 3,000 in late May. Sabathia, Verlander and Scherzer could cap the group for the rest of history.

The club’s exclusivity is often overlooked. Twenty-seven players have hit 500 or more home runs. Twenty-three players have 300 or more wins (speaking of marks which are unlikely to be reached again; Scherzer has 164, and, yes, wins are wins).

Among active players with 2,000 or more strikeouts, Clayton Kershaw is the youngest. He’s 31 years old and has struck out 2,342. Recent injuries have derailed what was a clear express path to 3,000. He becomes a free agent in 2022. And Kershaw is a good example of how usage is changing the chances to strike out 3,000.

He has not pitched more than seven innings this season. Part of that is to protect him following his back problems. Another portion is seven innings is the norm. Less is also common. Entering the eighth or ninth is almost unheard of. Only two pitchers have thrown two complete games this season. Twenty pitchers have one or more complete games this season. Last year, no pitcher finished with more than two complete games. Only 13 pitchers threw 200 or more innings. 

Yet, strikeout rates are at an all-time high while innings pitched by starters dips. So, let’s look at extrapolation for a younger pitcher, like Trevor Bauer, who is operating in this new era and will do so going forward.

Bauer is 28 years old. He’s struck out 1,035 batters. A decade more of 200 strikeouts per season gets him there -- narrowly. But, the problem for Bauer, like others alluded to above, is he rarely pitches into the eighth inning. Two of his 15 starts this season have gone a full eight innings. Only three have lasted more than seven. Three others have lasted less than six. Most often he pitches six to seven innings. He’s never thrown more than 190 innings in a season.

Let’s call it a 6 ⅔ innings for his average outing going forward. He strikes out 1.1 batters per inning this year. He’s never made more than 31 starts in the season. So, give him 28 starts per year for the next 10 years. That gives Bauer 205 strikeouts per season, on average, and discounts any future regression (which is likely). Together, Bauer could crack 3,000 strikeouts in his age-38 season. Any steps back -- a season of 21 starts because of injury, a reduction in innings on average, his strikeout totals reducing in the typical fashion of a pitcher in his mid-30s -- would cost him his slim chance.

In between Kershaw and Bauer are a variety of 30-something pitchers on the downside of their careers. Jon Lester is 35. He has 2,259 strikeouts. Cole Hamels is also 35. He’s at 2,498. Felix Hernandez has struck out 2,501. He’s 35 years old and left a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma early on Friday because of fatigue. Zack Greinke is 35. His 2,520 strikeouts give him an outside shot, as does his ability to pitch well despite an ongoing reduction in velocity. 

Pitchers of that ilk often found career-extending deals in the past. Now, teams are more likely to pay a younger starter much less instead of being on the hook for $10 million or more for a veteran winding down. Or, if they are signed, it’s only a one- or two-year deal. One guy who has a chance: 30-year-old Stephen Strasburg. His strikeout rate has held during his career -- and into this season. The question, as always, is health. It took Strasburg nine-plus seasons just to hit the midway point (1,554 coming into Saturday’s start).

Scherzer’s path is not in doubt. He will need around 240 strikeouts next season to hit it. Which means be prepared sometime in late August when Scherzer will be checking off another milestone, one which will be a challenge to hit again.

 

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    Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

    Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

    Wednesday’s question around Max Scherzer centered on which version of the right-hander would do the pitching. Would it be the one from two starts ago who looked like the pitcher everyone was so accustomed to seeing? Or the one from his last start, less sharp, fastball a tick down in velocity and life?

    Scherzer threw a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball Wednesday. He was loose and sharp. His outing also probably handed the Cy Young Award to New York’s Jacob deGrom.

    The issues were less his doing than his teammates. Scherzer’s final line, 6 ⅔ innings, seven hits, five earned runs, 11 strikeouts, no walks, bumped his ERA to 2.81. But, Juan Soto lost a fly ball in the sun which otherwise would have ended the seventh inning. Catch it, and here’s Scherzer’s line: seven innings pitched, five hits -- two of which were bloops -- two earned runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts. Scherzer would be directly responsible for not throwing a cutter in far enough against wonder boy Tommy Edman, who hit it for a home run in the third inning. Otherwise, stellar.

    Instead, a single drove in a run after the Soto mistake. A Matt Wieters pinch-hit two-run homer drove Scherzer out of the game following the single. Hence, the bloated line in a high-profile game. The rise in ERA, the loss, the box score telling a partial fib, all those things strongly enhance what was already a strong case for deGrom. Scherzer could never makeup the workload gap in the race, but could hang around or lead in all the peripherals. Wednesday’s outing made that much more difficult. 

    The Nationals also never found a way to a damn-busting hit. Asdrúbal Cabrera’s deep fly ball to right field was prevented from going over the fence by a leaping Dexter Fowler, a would-be three-run homer turned into another sigh against St. Louis. The Cardinals made plays, Washington did not. St. Louis wins two of three in a series against Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer as a result.

    Washington holds a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot before play begins Wednesday night. Chicago hosts Cincinnati. Milwaukee hosts San Diego. Things are tight.

    The Nationals don’t play Thursday. A three-game weekend series begins in Miami on Friday. A sweep resets Washington’s season. It would also make it 16-3 against Miami this year. Anyting less? Not great.

    Washington will have a slight advantage -- in theory -- going forward because it has the dual benefit of a lead (however small) as well as a game in hand on Chicago and Milwaukee. Who will pitch that extra game? Joe Ross is injured. The recent rotation shuffling for the weekend -- Aníbal Sánchez on Friday, Strasburg on Saturday and Austin Voth bumped to Sunday -- means Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson would handle the day game Tuesday in Nationals Park. 

    The Nationals are 6-10 in the last two-plus weeks. They haven’t lost their postseason spot --yet. However, it’s slipping, tenuous and in doubt, and Wednesday afternoon didn’t help.

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    Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

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    Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

    The Nationals trailed the Cardinals 5-1 in the top of the eighth on Wednesday in St. Louis. 

    But after Anthony Rendon walked and Howie Kendrick singled, Asdrubal Cabrera stepped to the plate with one out and a chance to cut St. Louis' lead to one run. 

    With a 3-2 count, Cabrera roped an 82 mph slider to right field, and Nationals fans had a moment to rejoice as the ball's trajectory was clearly that of a home run. 

    Enter: Dexter Fowler. 

    The Cardinals' right fielder made a quick dash to the wall and leapt, stretching his 6-foot-5 frame to rob Cabrera of the possible three-run longball. 

    And thus, Washington headed to the bottom of the inning still trailing 5-1, in serious need of a ninth-inning rally. 

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