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Max Scherzer's named Thursday's starter and penciled in for the postseason

Max Scherzer's named Thursday's starter and penciled in for the postseason

WASHINGTON -- So, it’s settled: Max Scherzer will pitch Thursday.

The Nationals’ best pitcher played catch in right field Tuesday. He felt well a day after a full bullpen session. He, finally, is aligned to make his first start since July 6.

Why Thursday? Well, this is where things are more interesting. Davey Martinez and his staff mapped out Scherzer’s possible starts from Thursday to the end of the season to see how he lines up if he would pitch every fifth game (not every fifth day because of scheduled off-days). If he pitches Thursday, this is how the rest of his season would look:

July 25 vs. Colorado

July 30 vs. Atlanta

Aug. 5 at San Francisco

Aug. 11 at New York

Aug. 17 vs. Milwaukee

Aug. 22 at Pittsburgh

Aug. 28 vs. Baltimore

Sept. 5 vs. New York

Sept. 8 at Atlanta

Sept. 14 vs. Atlanta

Sept. 20 at Miami

Sept. 25 vs. Philadelphia

Oct. 1 Wild-Card Game

Note three appearances against the first-place Braves. Consider a late-September start against Philadelphia. Then, of course, being on an extra day of rest should the wild-card game be necessary.

“You know Max,” Martinez said. “He wants to pitch today. He wants to pitch tomorrow. He wants to pitch Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”

Can things go wrong between now and then? Yes. A rainout could move Scherzer around. A recurrence of the mid-back strain which put him on the 10-day injured list July 13, retroactive to July 10, could happen. But, the Nationals took the time to map this out when considering whether Scherzer will pitch Thursday opposite Colorado or Friday against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. 

One wrinkle in this projection: The final series of the season is at Nationals Park versus Cleveland. The Indians start play Tuesday just three games out of the division lead in the American League Central and two ahead for a wild-card spot. Which means Cleveland could be playing for everything (from the division title, to hosting the wild-card game, to just getting into the postseason) or nothing because it has clinched a spot. Scherzer would not be on schedule for that series.

More immediately, Monday’s rainout forced the Nationals to massage their rotation. Erick Fedde was moved from Monday’s start to the first game of Wednesday’s split day-night doubleheader. Anibal Sanchez will pitch Friday. Joe Ross is expected to fill the open spot Saturday. Patrick Corbin, Scherzer and Sanchez will line up to face Atlanta when it visits next week.

There was one other starting pitcher issue exposed Tuesday. Austin Voth (right biceps tendinitis) has stopped throwing. He will have an MRI this week and his future is to be determined. Not so for Scherzer. He's expected back Thursday, then Oct. 1, if necessary.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Mid-August update

Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Mid-August update

It's the dog days of August in Major League Baseball, and most teams have fewer than 40 games lest in the season. Still, that's plenty of time to shake things up in most awards races. Let's take a look around baseball to see who should be favored in each of the major races in both leagues.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Matt Chapman, Athletics

Even with some minor shuffling behind Trout, it's the same three names here. Rafael Devers would be an obvious choice in the top three as well if he didn't struggle so mightily in the field. Chapman's all-around game keeps him easily ahead of the Red Sox third baseman in terms of both WAR and these rankings.

Again, though, this award is over. Lock it in. Write it in stone. Mike Trout is the 2019 American League Most Valuable Player. No one else is even in the same ballpark (pun very much intented) as maybe best baseball player to ever walk the Earth, who just so happens to currently be in his prime. 

NL MVP

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves

For the second straight season, Acuna is enjoying an otherworldy August, the kind that lets us squint and see a player who can potentially challenge Trout for "best player in the universe" status. It could happen, one day. But today is not that day.

Per bWAR, the gap between Mike Trout and the next-best player in the AL is 2.3 Wins Above Replacement. In the NL? Bellinger's lead over Yelich is 2.1.

Yelich's unbelievable power surge has colored the fact that Bellinger has been, far and away, the best non-Trout player in the sport in 2019. His incredible defensive metrics, combined with a true offensive breakout, show us a player who will win multiple MVP awards before all is said and done. Bellinger could already hit for power against righties. Now? He leads baseball in home runs against lefties, while playing the best outfield of any fielder in baseball, and still crushing righties.

Last update, I said this is a two-horse race, but that wasn't fair to Bellinger. It's his award to lose, and the only chance Yelich has is finishing with a historic home run total. Even then, it probably won't be enough.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Astros
2. Charlie Morton, Rays
3. Mike Minor, Rangers

Verlander remains the obvious favorite, thanks to his strikeouts and sterling ERA (first and second, respectively, in the American League). It doesn't hurt that he's doing it all for baseball's best team, even despite a career-high in home runs allowed.

Morton, of course, is the one who actually leads the AL in ERA, in addition to currently placing top six in WHIP, wins, WAR, and strikeouts. Minor was left off the last update, but it's difficult to ignore his 7.3 bWAR (no one else in the AL even has 6 WAR), and his adjusted ERA+ leads the league.

In fact, Verlander, Morton and Minor are top three, in varying orders, in several of Baseball Reference's more advanced pitching metrics, including adjusted ERA+, adjusted Pitching Runs, adjusted Pitching Wins, Base-Out Runs Saved, Base-Out Wins Saved, Situational Wins Saved, and Win Probability Added. Most of those statistics are pretty in the weeds, even for sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans. But it's telling that the same three names continually pop up across the board.

NL Cy Young

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
2. Jacob deGrom, Mets
3. Max Scherzer, Nationals

If and when Max Scherzer returns to the mound, he may be able to make this a true race again, but for now, Ryu looks to have a comfortable lead thanks to historic run prevention in an era defined by run scoring.

Let's give a shout out to deGrom too, who moves into the second spot with Scherzer's continued absence. It's well-earned, as the Mets ace leads the National League in strikeouts, is fourth in ERA and has allowed just one home run in his last seven outings at the time of this writing.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
2. John Means, Orioles
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

This is our biggest change from the last awards race check-in. Brandon Lowe and John Means led AL rookies in Wins Above Replacement at the time of the last update, but their continued struggles/absence has created enough of an opening for a new arrival.

We were deservedly called out for leaving Yordan Alvarez off a few weeks ago, which we did simply because of his lack of games played compared to the other contenders. We won't be making that mistake again.

Alvarez has been one of the best hitters in baseball, rookie or otherwise, since making his delayed debut in June. As a hitter who came up hot and has yet to slow down for the best team in baseball, it's fair to project forward a bit rather than look back on stats accumulated to this point. If Alvarez finishes the season with anything even remotely close to his outrageous current 196 wRC+, then he's going to run away with this award, plain and simple. 

Means' WAR is still more than a full win higher than Guerrero, but it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Vladito jump into one of the top two spots before the year is up.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, Mets
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
3. Mike Soroka, Braves

Well, this stinks. Tatis stays in the top two for now on the basis of his unbelievable rookie season so far. But with his season-ending injury, it appears this award has become Pete Alonso's to run away with as he continues to set home run records. It's unclear who will ultimately replace Tatis in the top three, but for now, no one else is particularly close, even in a truncated year.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
2. Kevin Cash, Rays
3. Bob Melvin, Athletics

The biggest question here is how much voters might knock the Twins if they end up losing the AL Central to the Indians after jumping out to such a big early lead. Will voters choose to appreciate the surprising run in Minnesota, looking past a late season "collapse"? It's hard to say for sure. Any of these three still could come away with the award, considering where each sits in the standings compared to modest preseason expectations.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
2. Brian Snitker, Braves
3.Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks

Just like in the American League, the top three here haven't changed, and each looks pretty set in some order. But unlike with the AL race, we are going to reorder these three, swapping Bochy and Lovullo.

It makes sense, considering the Giants currently sit higher in the standings. And more and more it feels preordained for future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy to win the Manager of the Year award in his final season, as he rides into the sunset of retirement.

Snitker remains an intriguing possibility as well, though the Braves likely need to maintain their grip on the NL East for him to actually win.

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