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Max Scherzer is rewriting his postseason legacy before our eyes

Max Scherzer is rewriting his postseason legacy before our eyes

Unless you're Daniel Hudson's newborn baby, you should be old enough to remember there once was a time Max Scherzer struggled on the postseason stage.

There was a time, not long ago, that Scherzer was being compared to Clayton Kershaw. Maybe his name wasn't in the same sentence when it comes to the dichotomy of regular season success and postseason failure, but it was in the same paragraph.

But in a matter of eight days and three outings, one relief appearance and two starts, Scherzer has rewritten his postseason legacy to a significant degree. Max is starting to look like Max.

Consider this: before this magical October run began for the Nationals, they had lost all four of his postseason appearances going back to 2016. In these playoffs, they have won all four games he's pitched in.

Saturday night, a 3-1 win for the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLCS, was a masterpiece. Scherzer overcame command issues early on to go seven scoreless innings with only one hit and two walks allowed. He struck out 11 and just barely outdueled Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright to hand the Nats a victory.

Scherzer didn't allow his first hit until the seventh when Paul Goldschmidt smacked a single to left field that Juan Soto may have had if he wasn't playing deeper than usual. Rarely did Scherzer even flirt with trouble, and when he did, he quickly escaped.

Like, in the first inning when he walked Kolten Wong and then saw him steal second. Scherzer then struck out Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, the Cardinals' best two hitters.

Scherzer was in a bad spot in the fifth inning when he went down 3-0 to Matt Carpenter with one out. So, he reached back and threw six straight strikes to earn two punchouts and end the frame.

Scherzer was dominant and by mid-game was strutting, stalking and stomping around the mound like he owned the place. He toyed with the Cardinals' lineup, dashing his deep arsenal of pitches to all quadrants of the strike zone.

Scherzer's no-hit bid lasted until the seventh inning, which was technically a step backward from what his teammate Anibal Sanchez did in Game 1. Sanchez took his no-no until there were two outs in the eighth. 

Yes, the Nationals have had two starting pitchers go at least six hitless innings to begin Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS. They are the seventh teammates to go back-to-back postseason games by starting with four or more hitless frames. The last guys to do it did so in the 2013 ALCS, two then-Tigers pitchers named Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Thank you, ESPN, for that unbelievable stat.

What Sanchez and Scherzer have done is give Nationals fans something they have never quite felt before; uneventful, business-like postseason wins. After all this franchise has been through since 2012, now the wins are coming easy. Nationals pitchers are handling the Cardinals lineup like they are playing the Marlins in mid-May.

In the big picture, Scherzer is telling those who have criticized his postseason career (like me) to take a seat. Despite holding a 3.20 ERA for his career in the regular season, his postseason mark sat at 3.83 after the Nats' NL Wild Card win over the Brewers. Three outings later, that number has dropped to 3.35. 

And, again according to ESPN, Scherzer has now taken five no-hit bids into the sixth inning or later in the postseason. That's three more than any other pitcher.

Scherzer has reinstalled himself as an ace in October and the Nationals have a 2-0 series lead as they head home for Game 3 on Monday. That means they are two wins away from going to the World Series, where a D.C. baseball team has not been since 1933.

And up next awaiting the Cardinals is Stephen Strasburg, who has been a machine for the Nationals in the playoffs throughout his career. The Nationals are defying expectations, taking care of business and lowering blood pressure all around the Washington area in the process.


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How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

How to try out to be a Washington Nationals' Racing President

Ever wanted to run for president? Well, now's your chance.

Or at least to compete to be a Racing one at Nats' games.

The Washington Nationals Entertainment Department is looking for interested candidates to try out to be the next George, Tom, Abe and Teddy.

Enthusiastic and energetic applicants should be able to run 200-yards in a 50-pound suit, be at least 5'7" and be available for at least 40% of the Nationals home games, according to the team.

You can apply here, but do so quickly. Applications close Wednesday, Dec. 11!

For those looking for helpful hints, NBC Sports Washington has some experts on staff.


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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick to one-year deal

Washington pulled in another important piece from the 2019 World Series roster.

Howie Kendrick and the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2021, pending a physical, on Friday morning, NBC Sports Washington confirmed. Kendrick's deal is reportedly worth $6.25 million.

Bringing Kendrick back retains a leader, elder statesman and quality bat. Kendrick, 36, became one of the key clubhouse voices last season while also delivering a career-best .966 OPS.

He can platoon at first base with Ryan Zimmerman -- should the Nationals and Zimmerman reach an expected deal -- because of his ability to hit right-handed pitching. Last season, Kendrick's OPS was .930 against right-handed pitching (.758 career), which made him more effective against right-handers than left-handed free-agent options like Eric Thames (.877) and Mitch Moreland (.887). Washington could still pivot to a left-handed platoon compliment if it does not reach a deal with Zimmerman.

Salaries at first base will represent significant savings for Washington in 2020. Zimmerman and Matt Adams cost around $21 million in base salary last season. If Zimmerman returns to work with Kendrick, his salary should be in a similar range, dropping the team's commitment at the position by roughly $9 million or more. 

The increasing possibility of the designated hitter coming to the National League in either 2020 or 2021 is also in play here for Kendrick. 

Kendrick's 2019 season was unlikely and filled with rejuvenation. He started the year arguing he was healed from an Achilles tendon rupture in 2018. Once he joined the team after opening the season on the injured list because of hamstring problems, Kendrick took off. Davey Martinez worked not to overplay Kendrick throughout the season in order to have him for the playoffs.

There, Kendrick excelled. His 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 in Los Angeles will long stand as one of the biggest hits in organization history.
He was named National League Championship Series MVP when Washington swept St. Louis in the next round. His Game 7 homer off the foul pole in Houston was also an enormous moment for the Nationals.

Now, he's back and helps provide clarity. The Nationals know what their catching combination is, have a good idea of what their first base combination is and are set in the outfield. The two big free-agent questions -- third base and a top-tier starting pitcher -- remain.