When the Nationals first signed Max Scherzer to a record free-agent deal in January, many of us - including yours truly - scratched their heads. The Nats already had by most accounts the deepest rotation in baseball and by some numbers, such as starters ERA, the best.
Where would Tanner Roark go? Was the move unnecessary? Am I taking crazy pills?
The Nationals had obvious needs, and signing Scherzer did not fill any of them.
But now, roughly a fifth of the way through the 2015 season, the signing of Scherzer doesn't only make sense, the current state of their rotation makes you wonder where they would be without him.
Doug Fister is out with a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm, an injury he suffered after a botched start time in San Diego. Stephen Strasburg is in the middle of the worst start of his six-year MLB career. Jordan Zimmermann has been uncharacteristically up-and-down. And Gio Gonzalez has a 4.25 ERA and a 1.535 WHIP.
Remove Scherzer's stats and the Nationals' rotation ERA is 4.65. Only three teams in the NL are currently worse: the Phillies, Brewers and Rockies.
Scherzer himself is now 4-3 with a 1.75 ERA, the best start to a season of his career. He has 66 strikeouts - tied for most in MLB - in 56 2/3 innings with only eight walks. His 2.04 FIP is so far the lowest in the National League.
Scherzer was dominant again in Saturday night's 4-1 win over the Padres in San Diego. He tossed seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts, four hits and two walks allowed. Scherzer has posted double-digit strikeouts in three of his last four outings and at least eight Ks in six of his eight starts this season. He has an 8.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is more than twice as good as his career average.
Scherzer has gone at least seven innings in seven of his eight starts this season and in six consecutive appearances. His shortest start was six innings on April 12 and only once this year has he allowed more than two earned runs in a game. Only twice has he given up more than one.
A former Cy Young winner, Scherzer has stepped in and immediately become the clear ace of the Nationals' staff. The rest of their rotation has been inconsistent overall, even Fister who was their rock in 2014, and even Zimmemrann who has been one of the best pitchers in the NL for several years.
The question before this season was where the Nationals' rotation would rank among the best staffs in recent baseball history. Now it is fair to ask, where would they be without Max Scherzer?