Max Scherzer Dominates Cubs In Cy Young Fashion
Wrigley Field was lit on fire Wednesday night. Flame-throwing Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals took out his torch on the Chicago Cubs leaving destruction in his wake as he dominated on the way to his 97th career victory.
Scherzer was up to his usual tricks on this night but he was even a little more dominant than usual as the Cubs could do precious little to mount an attack in support of their Ace, the southpaw Jon Lester. Scherzer out-dueled Lester on this night by fanning 13 batters via strikeout against only one walk while allowing five hits and zero runs.
It was vintage Scherzer. His deep mix of pitches were all working and he was flashing his trademark ability to get batters out with pitches in the strike zone that were still too nasty to hit. “Deception” wasn’t necessary very often. Scherzer was touching 98-mph with his heater and sitting often at 95/96 late into his outing. As the game wore on Cubs hitters were expanding their strike zone a bit to catch up and Scherzer was toying with several of them. But it was the tone set early by Scherzer overpowering the feckless Cubbie attack with pitches that would have been called strikes if they hadn’t been waved at fruitlessly.
Scherzer was supported by solo bombs from the amazing Bryce Harper off Lester and pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa in the 9th to score the Nats’ third run. The Nationals first run came after an error from Cubs phenom Addison Russell.
The New Addition inside the Beltway
As most know, Scherzer arrived in Washington this year after a stellar run withe Detroit Tigers helping lead the club to four straight AL Central crowns. Scherzer’s tour de force 2013 campaign gave him the AL Cy Young Award for his mantle.
Scherzer turned done a reported 6-year/$144M offer from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch prior to the 2014 season betting he could stay healthy and effective before reaching the free agency promised land. This is what he did, of course, and it was the Nationals who negotiated a landmark 7-year/$210M deal with agent Scott Boras on Scherzer’s behalf. The Nationals were adding Scherzer to a deep pitching staff already laden with ace-level talent fresh off a 96-win campaign. Scherzer was supposed to be that final ingredient to bump the Nats over the top in the coming seasons.
Storming the National League
We could say this dominance is being flashed during Scherzer’s “adjustment phase” to the National League but that would be a laughable idea to call it that. This adjustment phase is similar to the adjustment phase the aliens initially had when they invaded the Earth in the movie “Independence Day”. Scherzer force field is strong and he’s blasting through the vast majority of hitters sent to oppose him.
While his Win/Loss record only stands at 6-3 due to some run support issues and one defensive lapse behind him on Opening Day, Scherzer has been relentlessly cranking out his usual seven or eight inning outings that typically result in a Quality Start (QS). Wednesday’s gem was Scherzer 9th QS in 10 trips to the hill in 2015. The only game this year that didn’t result in an QS was after Scherzer couldn’t resist challenging Giancarlo Stanton in the 8th inning of a 7-5 Nats win. Stanton mauled a rare floater from Scherzer deep into the bleachers for a 3-run homer but the Washington bullpen hung on for the win.
With the 13 strikeout performance in Chicago, Scherzer has now struck out 85 batters in 71.2 innings pitched (IP). This raised his K/9 to a tasty 10.67 (his career mark at 9.61 and his season high was 11.06 in 2012) and Scherzer is now pushing a K% of nearly 30% of all batters faced.
Scherzer’s lone walk issued on Wednesday was only the 10th of the season. This certainly is one reason why his ERA is sitting at 1.51 and not closer to some of his Detroit numbers. A BB/9 of merely 1.26 through 10 starts is less than half of Scherzer’s career norms. Perhaps some of that will regress over the course of the year, but quite often walk-rates stabilize for a given season rather quickly. This could just be what Scherzer is now. A true step forward with his command and control.
Scherzer’s homerun rate will likely drift upwards as the season wears on. Not many pitchers carry a HR% less than 4% all year. This is the one statistic that looks most ripe to go the other way for him at this point. Which isn’t too shocking, not many guys keep a sub-2 ERA for the season and despite his current roll it probably isn’t a good bet now either.
It appears from the numbers that Scherzer has made a couple of changes in his move to the NL from his final Detroit season. He’s throwing more fastball and sliders while, to this point, de-emphasizing his curveball and change-up. Indeed he’s throwing the change-up 50% less often than he did in Motown in 2014 coupled with roughly 40% fewer curves. He’s been powering through lineups his first time through the NL. It will be interesting to see if he busts out the slow stuff the second time these lineups see him in ’15.
Where it goes from here
Scherzer and the Nationals have big goals in mind. Scherzer was adamant he wanted to find another winner to play for when he signed in Washington. Team goals will come first. That should take care of itself. Harper is now one of baseball’s most productive sluggers. Anthony Rendon is due to return shortly. It’s a good bet that, if healthy, Stephen Strasburg will emerge from the wilderness he currently finds himself. Washington is the odds on favorite for an NL pennant from this view.
But on the individual side, it’s not hard to envision Scherzer plowing through the NL East with great force all season. He’s looking like a man ready to capture a second career Cy Young Award and join the club of those to snare one in each circuit. After having watched the majority of his starts this year it’s not hard for a long time Scherzer-observer to see that most of his finest physical and mental attributes are on full display in Washington thus far. Scherzer’s best velocity is all there. His control has been impeccable. He’s keeping the ball in the yard. Tactically he seems one step ahead of nearly every batter he encounters.
The march to the NL Cy Young has started. How far will Scherzer take it in 2015?