If Max Scherzer‘s American League Cy Young Award is beginning to feel lonely, it could soon have company.

In the wasteland that is the National League Cy Young race without a fully functioning Clayton Kershaw, anyone could claim this year’s award. From Madison Bumgarner to Johnny Cueto to Noah Syndergaard to Jake Arrieta to Jose Fernandez, there’s no shortage of strong-armed dudes vying for it.

But if anyone had forgotten about Scherzer, well, it’s suddenly easy to remember him after what the Washington Nationals ace did to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday at Nationals Park. To stave off a four-game sweep, he paced the Nats to a 4-0 win with eight shutout innings in which he allowed two hits, walked nobody and struck out 10.

The finish was especially strong. Scherzer bore down and retired the final three Orioles he faced in noticeably angry fashion. Apparently, any Orioles fans upset about that have only themselves to blame.

“The O’s fans started making noise there in the eighth and it really kind of ticked me off,” he said afterward, per Ben Standig of CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The madness of this particular Max aside, we’re looking at a season that keeps getting better. Scherzer picked up another win to run his record to 14-7, lowered his ERA to 2.92 and the average against him to .191, and raised his innings to 182.0, his strikeouts to 227 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 5.16. 

This is obviously Cy Young-caliber material. But whether any of it makes Scherzer an obvious front-runner is anyone’s guess. The only time there was a front-runner for the NL Cy Young this year was when Kershaw was healthy and leading the league in everything. That was a while ago, and now the NL Cy Young race is a different strokes/different folks kind of affair.

Scherzer leads the NL in innings and strikeouts, which are important, but he doesn’t lead other categories that voters gravitate toward. Arrieta leads with 16 wins, two more than Scherzer’s 14. Kyle Hendricks leads with a 2.19 ERA, a category in which Bumgarner (2.44), Syndergaard (2.61), Arrieta (2.62), Cueto (2.86) and Fernandez (2.91) are also ahead of Scherzer. 

And keep in mind, there’s still more than a month of baseball left. Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated was right when he wrote that this race could change drastically in September. We’re not here to hand Scherzer anything now, nor to promise with 100 percent certainty that he’ll get something come November. 

What can be said now, however, is that Scherzer could be awfully tough to beat.

The veteran right-hander may not have the most wins or the best ERA among his fellow NL aces, but that’s OK. The former isn’t the deal-maker it used to be in Cy Young discussions, and the latter is a stat that doesn’t fully capture the sheer dominance of Scherzer’s 2016 season.

Those league-leading 227 strikeouts are a big reason why the .191 average against him is second behind only Arrieta (.183). There’s no ignoring the 25 home runs Scherzer has given up, but most of the contact that hitters have made against him has been quiet.

He entered Thursday with a 22.5 soft-hit percentage, second only to Hendricks (26.3) and Tanner Roark (24.1). And with a rate of 2.2 walks per nine innings, Scherzer hasn’t issued many free passes when he hasn’t been completely overwhelming hitters.

It’s times like these that nerds like me point to obscure statistics that tie everything up with a neat little bow. In this case, it’s “deserved run average.” It’s a Baseball Prospectus specialty that gets more in depth than metrics like fielding independent pitching (FIP) and expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) to cut through the nonsense that clouds ERA and get to a pitcher’s true performance level. 

Here’s how the top of the DRA list looked among starters with at least 150 innings heading into Thursday’s action:

  1. Chris Sale: 2.70
  2. Corey Kluber: 2.88
  3. Max Scherzer: 2.91

Just two pitchers ahead of Scherzer, neither of whom is in the National League. That, folks, is how you make a guy look good.

Or, you could opt for the much simpler route to appreciating Scherzer’s dominance.

His latest outing was the 15th time all season in which he’s lasted at least seven innings and given up no more than two runs. No other National League pitcher has more than 12 such starts. His 11 starts with at least 10 strikeouts, meanwhile, are two more than anyone else has. One of those, of course, was his record-tying 20-strikeout game against the Detroit Tigers back in May.

Scherzer didn’t peak with that game. He hit a rough patch in his two starts prior to Thursday’s outing, but he still has a 1.94 ERA over his last 11 starts. Rather than slowing down, he’s streaking to the finish.

Washington’s schedule will make it easy for him to continue this. The Nationals have the NL East’s only good offense, and the only non-NL East opponents they face the rest of the way are the Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies have a scary offense, but they’re up next, and Scherzer will get to miss them.

Scherzer was an easy pick when he won the American League Cy Young as a Tiger in 2013, getting 28 of 30 first-place votes. Given the state of the race, it’s unlikely he’ll fare that well in this year’s NL Cy Young voting even if he does take it.

But make no mistake: He can win it.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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