Tag: Washington Nationals

Max Scherzer Injury: Nationals SP Suffers Stress Fracture in Knuckle

Max Scherzer has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball over the last five years, but the Washington Nationals ace is on the mend after suffering a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, according to Dan Kolko of MASN. 

He added that Scherzer will not be able to participate with the United States at the World Baseball Classic but will be ready for spring training.

For the U.S. team, it will have to rely more on the likes of Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman to anchor the starting rotation.

The Nationals breezed through the National League East in 2016, and Scherzer was a key reason why. The 32-year-old went 20-7 and led the NL with 284 strikeouts and a 0.968 WHIP. 

Hearing of an injury to a key pitcher within the Nationals pitching staff isn’t anything new. Stephen Strasburg, who has battled injuries throughout his first seven years in the majors, missed the final month of a 15-4 season due to a strained flexor mass. 

The Nationals wouldn’t have had much depth in the rotation if Scherzer went down. Behind Strasburg, Tanner Roark was terrific in 2016, but Gio Gonzalez was inconsistent and Joe Ross was sidelined for most of last year due to shoulder inflammation. 

Scherzer has been one of MLB‘s most durable pitchers, making at least 30 starts every year since 2009. Luckily for him and the Nationals, that streak won’t be in jeopardy based on the extent of this injury. The Nationals can stay on their course of planning to repeat as National League East champions. 

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Bryce Harper Marries Girlfriend Kayla Varner: Latest Details and Photos

Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper married longtime girlfriend Kayla Varner over the weekend at the iconic San Diego Mormon Temple.

Harper shared an image from the ceremony on his Instagram page:

Wedding photographer India Earl also shared an image from the wedding:

According to TalkNats.com (via Emily Heil of the Washington Post), Nationals teammates Jayson Werth and Trea Turner were in attendance, along with general manager Mike Rizzo. Former teammate Ian Desmond also attended, per Sports Illustrated (via Fox Sports).

Turner shared an image from the proceedings:

Harper and Varner—who played soccer at BYU and Ohio State—had previously planned to wed in 2015, though the wedding was called off, per Heil. But Varner announced on Instagram during this year’s ESPYs that the pair were engaged once again.

Harper, 24, is coming off his worst season as a pro, hitting .243 with 24 home runs, 86 RBI, 84 runs and 21 stolen bases in 2016. Nonetheless, he remains one of the game’s most exciting young superstars and is a crucial pillar for a Nationals team hoping to return to the postseason in 2017.


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Adam Eaton for Lucas Giolito ‘Wow’ Trade Could Come Back to Haunt Nationals

The Washington Nationals were quickly turning into the bridesmaids of the 2016 MLB offseason, and not in the charming, Kristen Wiig sense of the word.

Washington lost the bidding for closer Mark Melancon, who signed with the San Francisco Giants. They whiffed on Chris Sale, who landed on the Boston Red Sox. They came up short in an 11th-hour push to get All-Star reliever Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals, with Davis going to the defending champion Chicago Cubs, per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.

Now, at last, the Nats have a trade in place: They’re sending three pitching prospects—Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning—to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton, per Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, it feels like a deal born of desperation—and one that could come back to haunt them sooner than later.

Giolito is the shiniest prize in the package headed to the South Side. The tall, 22-year-old right-hander is the No. 1 pitching prospect in the game, per MLB.com, and projects as a frontline starter who could be a part of Chicago’s rotation in 2017 after making his big league debut last season.

That alone would have been a steep price to pay. But Washington gilded the lily with Lopez, the No. 8 pitching prospect in baseball, and Dunning, the Nats’ first-round pick from this past summer’s amateur draft.

That’s three top-shelf arms to add to the White Sox’s growing haul of blue chips, which also includes the game’s top position prospect, Yoan Moncada, acquired from the Red Sox in the Sale trade.

Like Giolito, the 22-year-old Lopez could be a part of the Sox’s 2017 rotation. Lopez hasn’t generated as much buzz as Giolito, but he posted more strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season (10.4 to 9.1) and fewer walks per nine (2.9 to 3.4) before arriving to The Show and making an immediate impression. 

“It’s never easy to let go of your prospects,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters. “You feel like a proud daddy when they get to the big leagues.”

Taken in isolation, Eaton is a fine pickup. At 28 years old, he’s in the midst of his prime. He posted a robust .284/.362/.428 slash line last season with 14 home runs, 14 stolen bases and nine triples.

He was also the best defensive right fielder in either league, posting 22 defensive runs saved and a 23.1 ultimate zone rating, per FanGraphs

He’s locked into a Black Friday-esque contract that will pay him $18.4 million over the next three seasons, with a pair of club options that could extend the deal to a total of $38.4 million over five years. Needless to say, that’s below market rate.

Once you add some context, though, this gets worse for Washington.

A large share of Eaton’s value is tied to his defense. While he’s elite in right field, the Nats already have a guy there by the name of Bryce Harper (more on him in a moment).

Almost surely, the plan is to slide Eaton to center field and move speedy Rookie of the Year runner-up Trea Turner to shortstop.

The bad news? As a center fielder, Eaton owns a career minus-8 DRS and minus-21 UZR. You don’t need to know a defensive metric from a rosin bag to understand that isn’t good.

Even Eaton’s eminently affordable deal is less special on closer inspection. Getting him on the cheap for the next few seasons will be nice, but by the time his options kick in, he’ll be on the wrong side of 30. Players like him—guys who rely on their legs and have a tendency to collide with walls—don’t always age well.

That likewise puts a wet blanket on the idea of Eaton taking over in right field when Harper hits free agency after the 2018 season. It’s technically on the table, but will he still wield an above-average glove at that point?

Again, Eaton will provide value for Washington. The more you turn it around, though, the more this looks, walks and quacks like an overpay.

That seemed to be Harper’s initial reaction, if you want to read meaning into a one-word tweet:

To be fair, Harper tossed out congratulatory remarks a scant 14 minutes later: 

Maybe they were sincere; maybe it was damage control. We’ll likely never know. We’ll also never know if the Nationals could have gotten flawed-but-intriguing Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whom they were widely rumored to be chasing, for less.

Here’s something we do know: An unnamed Nats player texted Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal in a state of disbelief:

Rosenthal’s analysis is spot-on. The Nationals need a replacement for Melancon. Their options are dwindling. And they just spent an extra-large portion of their trade capital on a great defensive right fielder so they can stick him in center field, where he’s not so great. 

Maybe Giolito, Lopez and Dunning will all flame out. They wouldn’t be the first touted prospects to do so. Maybe Eaton’s high-energy style will be the missing ingredient that gets the Nationals over the hump after a string of disappointing postseason exits.

At the moment, though, this marriage appears to have come at far too high a cost for Washington.

Sometimes, it’s better to be the bridesmaid.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Bryce Harper Contract: Latest News, Rumors on OF’s Negotiations with Nationals

Although Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper is under team control for the next two seasons, speculation is already running rampant as to his future in the nation’s capital beyond the 2018 campaign. 

Continue for updates.

Latest on Negotiations Between Harper, Nationals

Monday, Dec. 5

On Monday, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported Harper is looking to get a deal for 10-plus years worth more than $400 million—terms the Nationals are unwilling to meet at this stage.

Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, refuted the report, per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan: “I have had no discussions with the Nationals regarding Harp and a long-term contract.”

Harper’s request for a contract totaling over $400 million wouldn’t be all that surprising. An MLB star is bound to cross that threshold sooner or later after Giancarlo Stanton re-signed with the Miami Marlins for $325 million over 13 years in 2014.

Harper, who turns 26 in two years, will be in the prime of his career, thus sitting in a position to demand one of the richest deals in baseball history, whether it’s with the Nationals or another team.

By his standards, Harper is coming off a disappointing 2016. A year after winning the National League‘s MVP award, he batted .243 with 24 home runs and 86 RBI. His slugging percentage dropped from .649 in 2015 to .441.

Despite his issues at the plate, Harper would likely be able to name his price in free agency should he rebound in 2017 and 2018.

Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner has shown a willingness to spend to make the team a World Series contender. Washington sent a message when it signed Jayson Werth for seven years and $126 million in 2010, and it has subsequently handed out contracts worth a combined $485 million to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman.

Still, re-signing Harper will be a major challenge for the Nationals. He has little incentive to agree on an extension before hitting free agency, and should he hit the open market, there’s no telling how high his price tag could climb.

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Would Chris Sale Blockbuster Make Nationals a Real Threat to Cubs Reign?

The Chicago Cubs are the team to beat in the National League. That was true before they busted their 108-year championship drought and it’s certainly true now.

Here’s the thing about being the team to beat, though: Everyone wants to beat you.

Like, say, the Washington Nationals.

The Nats are the defending NL East champs. They pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers to five games in the division series, despite losing All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos and co-ace Stephen Strasburg to injury. They’re within shouting distance of Senior Circuit supremacy.

Here’s an intriguing thought exercise: Would a trade for Chicago White Sox stud Chris Sale put them in position to threaten the Cubs’ nascent reign?

The Nats have kicked the tires on Sale, per USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale. Why not? With a comically weak free-agent class, he could be the winter’s biggest prize if he’s moved.

A 27-year-old five-time All-Star, Sale has eclipsed 200 strikeouts in each of the last four seasons and thrown more than 200 innings in three of them. He’s averaged 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings since his debut in 2010, the sixth-highest total among active pitchers. 

He’s under contract for the next three seasons, for $12 million in 2017, a $12.5 million team option in 2018 and a $13.5 million team option in 2019, a relative bargain.

He’ll also cost a lot in trade, as we’ll get into shortly. For now, back to the original question: Could adding Sale push Washington past Chicago?

He’d join a rotation already fronted by NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Strasburg, forming a formidable top three.

Here, let’s stack their 2016 stats next to each other for fun:

Add Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA, 210 innings, 172 strikeouts) and you’d be looking at one of the deepest, most dangerous rotations in the game.

The Cubs have a strong starting corps of their own. Chicago’s top four starters—Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey—combined for 15.7 WAR by FanGraphs‘ measure

Marry Sale’s 2016 WAR to the totals for Scherzer, Strasburg and Roark, however, and you get an even more robust 17.8.

The Nationals’ bullpen ranked second in the NL with a 3.37 ERA last season, while the Cubs’ relief corps ranked fourth with a 3.56 mark. Both teams could lose the elite closers they acquired at the trade deadline—Mark Melancon from the Nationals and Aroldis Chapman from the Cubs.

The Nationals could also lose their backstop and a key offensive cog with Ramos on the market. The Cubs, likewise, need to re-sign or replace center fielder and leadoff man Dexter Fowler, which they may have done by signing Jon Jay to a one-year, $8 million pact, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.

The Cubs’ offensive core is second to none, with NL MVP Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Addison Russell and second baseman/breakout postseason star Javier Baez leading a group that ranked second in the NL in runs (808) and OPS (.772).

The Nats counter with 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, second baseman Daniel Murphy and center fielder/speedy breakout rookie Trea Turner. They also hit more home runs than the Cubs in 2016 (203 to 199) and stole more bases (121 to 66). 

The chasm isn’t that wide, in other words. One seismic move could edge Washington over the top. 

The same could be said for other NL contenders, including the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers need starting pitching and a bat or two, though they may be shackled by financial constraints. The Giants need to add some thump to their lineup and bolster a bullpen that was their undoing last season.

The New York Mets, meanwhile, made the biggest move of the offseason thus far, re-upping outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for four years and $110 million, per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan

That’s another reason for the Nats to be aggressive. The Mets, recall, won the division and the NL pennant in 2015 and could be a formidable opponent in 2017 if their rotation bounces back to health.

What would Washington have to surrender for Sale? The short answer: a ton.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal opined, correctly, that it’s “virtually impossible to imagine the Nationals parting with Turner.”

However, Rosenthal added, “they could entice the White Sox with others from their deep, talented system. Start with right-handers Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde and outfielder Victor Robles, and take it from there.”

Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked Robles, Lopez and Fedde the Nats‘ No. 2, 3 and 4 prospects, respectively. They all rank among the game’s top 100 prospects, per MLB.com—Robles at No. 10, Lopez at No. 37 and Fedde at No. 75. 

That package would sting, and it might not be enough. The Sox could hold out for Turner, or right-hander and No. 1 prospect Lucas Giolito.

This is the time for the Nats to get bold, though. They’ve won three division titles in five years but never advanced to the National League Championship Series, let alone the big October dance.

Close your eyes and picture that rotation again: Scherzer, Sale, Strasburg and Roark.

“Imagine that in the playoffs,” an unnamed executive said, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. “And Sale being there would completely take the pressure off Strasburg.”

That’s a salient point. Talented as Strasburg is, he’s got a checkered injury history. With Sale in the fold, he could shine as the best No. 3 starter in the game.

The Cubs are the team to beat in the NL, and a safe bet to become baseball’s first repeat champions since the 2000 New York Yankees.

The Nationals have a chance to beat them, however, and Sale could be their cudgel. 

He’d be an expensive one. He’d also be worth it.


All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Max Scherzer Joins Rarefied Air with AL, NL Cy Young Double Dip

Max Scherzer has thrown no-hitters. He’s struck out 20 batters in a game. On Wednesday, he joined a club that counts Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay as its only other members.

Here’s your smoking jacket, Max. Pedro will teach you the secret handshake.

In a landslide decision, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America named Scherzer the National League Cy Young Award winner. He’s the sixth pitcher to claim the prize in both leagues—he won it in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers—and joins the pack of aces listed above.

The Washington Nationals right-hander got 25 of 30 possible first-place votes. The Chicago Cubs‘ Kyle Hendricks and Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Clayton Kershaw got two first-place votes each, and the Cubs’ Jon Lester got one.

Scherzer posted a 2.96 ERA, led the NL with 228.1 innings and notched an MLB-leading 284 strikeouts. He also went 20-7, though the outmoded win stat doesn’t carry the cache it once did.

The Nats’ season ended in disappointment. They were eliminated in the NL Division Series by the Dodgers, with Scherzer throwing six strong innings but taking a no-decision in the deciding Game 5.

That may explain his drive to improve in 2017.

“I want to find a new way to be better, go out there and find new ways to get guys out,” Scherzer said, per USA Today‘s Jorge L. Ortiz. “I’ve been dreaming up different ways to do it. When I get to spring training, that will be my thing, to find a new way.”

Washington would be fine with more of the old way.

Some pitchers wobble under the weight of big contracts—we’re looking at you, Zack Greinke and David Price. Scherzer, meanwhile, has delivered on his top-of-the-rotation pedigree since inking a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats in January 2015.

In two seasons with Washington, Scherzer has gone 34-19, notched a 2.88 ERA, averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings and posted the second-highest WAR (12) among pitchers in either league, according to FanGraphs’ measure.

He’s had headline-grabbing moments, too, including his pair of no-nos in 2015 and the aforementioned 20-strikeout game in May, which tied the MLB record.

Stephen Strasburg has the stuff to be special when healthy. Tanner Roark roared back after a disappointing 2015 and led Nationals starters with a 2.83 ERA last season. Scherzer, however, has been Washington’s rock and undisputedly its best pitcher.

If Kershaw hadn’t missed all of July and August with a back injury, he might have won his fourth career Cy Young. Even with his time on the shelf, the Dodgers ace got first-place votes. When healthy, he’s probably still the top arm in baseball.

Scherzer is in the conversation, however, with his durability, bat-missing stuff and propensity for historic achievements.

There were Cy Young arguments to be made for Hendricks and Lester, who finished 1-2 in the big leagues with ERA marks of 2.13 and 2.44, respectively.

Scherzer’s case was tough to quash, though, as Lester himself winkingly acknowledged:

Scherzer is 32. His production could falter in the waning years of his Nationals tenure. That’s been the fate of most pitchers who’ve signed nine-figure deals, as the Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga outlined:

The 19 pitchers who have signed $100-million deals, Scherzer included, generally have delivered in the first two years of the contract, as Scherzer did. … Averages over the first two seasons:

13-8 record, 3.28 ERA, 1.150 WHIP with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, averaging 197-2/3 innings pitched.

But compare that to seasons three and beyond:

8-6 record, 3.73 ERA, 1.251 WHIP, 7.55 [SO/9] and, most alarmingly, 131-1/3 innings pitched.

Maybe a decline is imminent. Maybe this will be Mad Max’s zenith, and it’s all downhill from here. That’s hand-wringing for another day, however.

For now, Nats fans can rejoice, or at least accept their ace’s award as a consolation prize for another fizzled postseason run.

Scherzer, meanwhile, can slip on his Cy-in-each-league coat, grab a seat at the table and give the Big Unit the secret handshake.

He’s earned it.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Washington Nationals

Fans of the Washington Nationals don’t care that Game 5 of the National League Division Series was a contest for the ages. Their team lost, failing to advance to the National League Championship Series for the third time since 2012.

“That’s probably one of the craziest, if not the craziest, games I’ve ever been a part of in my career,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer said after the game, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and Ken Gurnick. “Man, this is a tough one to be on the wrong side of.”

Even tougher will be the months ahead, one that will find Washington’s front office tasked with trying to improve upon a team that won 95 games and its third NL East title in five years. Will there be wholesale changes to the roster, or mere tweaks here and there? Let’s take a look at how things might shake out.

Begin Slideshow

Nationals Fall Short in Playoffs Again as Clock Ticks on Window, Bryce Harper

Another year, another dispiriting finish for the Washington Nationals.

Yes, the Nats pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers to the maximum five games in the National League Division Series despite key injuries in the lineup and starting rotation.

At this point, though, Washington isn’t looking for moral victories.

The Nationals are seeking actual victories and, to put a fine point on it, trophies. They’re hoping to reverse their trend of choking in the division series. Most of all, they’re looking to optimize their roster and cash in while Bryce Harper remains gainfully employed in the nation’s capital.

First, let’s review Thursday’s heartbreaker.

The Nationals came into Game 5 against the Dodgers with their ace, Max Scherzer, on the hill and the home crowd behind them.

The Nats toted a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning before Los Angeles struck for four runs. Washington made it 4-3 when pinch hitter Chris Heisey launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.

But Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw combined on a gutsy relief effort and sent the Dodgers to a champagne shower.

The Nationals, meanwhile, were left to pick up the pieces of another stalled run. There was ample cause for angst, but here’s a bitter nugget, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNSports.com:

There was also the ill-advised decision to send Jayson Werth home in the sixth inning, as McCovey Chronicles’ Grant Brisbee captured:

In 2012, Washington was a strike away from finishing off the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS but ended up losing three games to two.

In 2014, the Nats rolled in as heavy favorites but were defeated in four games by the upstart San Francisco Giants.

Last season, Washington was a popular preseason pick to win it all behind a supposed super-rotation but finished second in the NL East and missed the postseason.

This year, veteran skipper Dusty Baker restored order to a fractured clubhouse, and the Nationals reclaimed the division.

They were dinged, however, by late-season injuries to All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, right-hander Stephen Strasburg and second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Murphy returned for the division series, but Ramos (torn ACL) and Strasburg (balky elbow) didn’t play in the postseason.

That leaves Washington with some wiggle room to explain its early exit. Losing one of your top two rotation cogs and a steady backstop who hit .307 with 22 home runs is no small thing.

Still, excuses aside, another season has passed with the Nationals limping home in October. This can’t keep happening indefinitely.

There is youth on the roster, spearheaded by speedy rookie Trea Turner, who looks like a budding superstar. But the Nats are counting the days until 2015 NL MVP and franchise cornerstone Harper hits the open market.

Harper, who turns 24 Sunday, will become a free agent after the 2018 campaign. That’s not tomorrow, but it’s soon enough for the Nationals to begin wringing their hands.

Yes, they could re-sign Harper at some point between now and then. But even after a down year, he’s likely to bolt for a Brink’s truck payday somewhere else (cough, the Bronx).

That means Washington needs to do its darndest to win now—to turn these recurring October lemons into confetti-flavored lemonade.

“This is the biggest start of my career,” Scherzer said before Thursday’s game, per Eddie Matz of ESPN.com.

He wasn’t wrong, though the 32-year-old right-hander will have other chances after inking a seven-year, $210 million contract in January 2015.

There’s hope on the horizon with a farm system Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 10 in the game after the 2016 trade deadline.

But with Harper’s potential exit looming and the unpleasant taste of three postseason exits in their mouth, the Nats need to regroup. They need to retool, adding a closer to supplant free agent Mark Melancon (or bringing him back) and possibly getting reinforcements for the lineup and rotation.

Most of all, they need to cast aside that dispiriting feeling before it’s too late. The NL East won’t belong to them forever, with the New York Mets looking to get their stable of studs back and the young Philadelphia Phillies on the rise.

The Nationals are heading into the offseason on a down note. Unfortunately for them, that’s a familiar song.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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NLDS Game 5 Can Put Max Scherzer Back on Map as Clutch Postseason Ace

Max Scherzer has started 276 games in the major leagues. That includes 11 in the postseason, which have covered a World Series game and Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

According to him, none of these compares to his assignment in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday.

“This is probably the biggest start of my career, the biggest start of my life,” the Washington Nationals ace said about his date with the Los Angeles Dodgers, via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. “How you handle that, going out there and using the emotion of that scenario that everything’s on the linelook, I’m not going to shy away from it. This is the biggest start of my career.”

This might be Scherzer’s lust for revenge speaking for him. The NLDS is tied 2-2 in part because he fell flat in Game 1, allowing four runs in six innings in a 4-3 loss. Surely, the former Cy Young Award winner wants redemption.

Still, there’s no denying the other stakes at play in Game 5.

Supposedly too battered and bruised for the task, the Nationals are trying to finish off an upset over the favored Dodgers. Including their past life as the Montreal Expos, the Nationals are also trying to go to just the second National League Championship Series in franchise history.

There’s also more than just revenge at stake for Scherzer. He’s been as advertised in two seasons since signing his $210 million contract, but a clutch postseason performance would be much-appreciated icing on the proverbial cake. It would also put him back on the map as a postseason ace. 

It’s hard to look back and see other cases of postseason dominance while still being blinded by the ethereal October light of Madison Bumgarner. But Scherzer was darn good for the Detroit Tigers in 2012 and 2013. He made seven total appearances, including six starts, and racked up a 2.50 ERA while holding hitters to a .173 average and .572 OPS.

The best part? In 39.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters. That’s a rate of 13.8 batters per nine innings. He was basically 2001 Randy Johnson for two Octobers.

Scherzer hasn’t missed a beat in three regular seasons since then, racking up a 2.96 ERA and striking out 10.8 batters per nine innings.

After winning one in 2013, he was a top-five finisher in the Cy Young voting in 2014 and 2015. He may be the favorite to win it in the National League this year after posting a 2.96 ERA and leading the NL in wins (20), innings (228.1) and strikeouts (284).

However, that 2013 postseason remains the last time anyone saw Scherzer at his October best.

Before his flop in Game 1 of the NLDS, he endured a five-run flop against the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the ALDS back in 2014. Go back a little further, and the fine print has a reminder that he unraveled against the Boston Red Sox late in Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS.

Scherzer could ask for worse circumstances for getting off the schneid on Thursday. He’ll be at home in Nationals Park. He’ll be facing a Dodgers lineup that, while formidable, is hitting just .221 with a .686 OPS in this series. He’ll be opposed by some combination of Rich Hill on three days’ rest and Julio Urias making his first postseason appearance.

There is one thing that could sink Scherzer: home runs. He led the NL by giving up 31 of them in the regular season. He gave up two more to Corey Seager and Justin Turner in Game 1. Going back to the end of the regular season, he’s served up multiple dingers in three out of his last four starts.

Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post dug into Brooks Baseball and noticed that Scherzer’s arm slot has dropped, leading to a flatter fastball. It’s also been slower, as Scherzer has worked with his worst velocity all season in October.

Less life and less velocity are never good things, but they’re especially bad things for Scherzer in light of how he uses his fastball. He’ll work both sides of the plate, but he mostly prefers to challenge hitters in terms of vertical placement:

Scherzer can normally get away with this due to the sheer electricity of his heater. But without that electricity, he’s vulnerable. Seager demonstrated as much when he went yard on a belt-high fastball in the first inning of Game 1.

There’s no indication anything is physically wrong with Scherzer, so it may be a mere mechanical glitch that’s made his arm slot drop. If he can get that ironed out, he can get back to being his usual self in Game 5.

His usual self can tear through the Dodgers lineup. Scherzer had the highest swinging-strike rate of any qualified starter this year and the third-highest strikeout rate at 11.19 per nine innings. These are the things he can do when he’s combining his excellent fastball, slider and changeup with strong command.

And indeed, these are the things he had when he was tearing through the postseason in 2012 and 2013. He’s mostly been that same pitcher over the last three years. He just needs to remember how to do it in October.

If he can do that, he can own the biggest game of his life.


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

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A.J. Cole Suspended: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

MLB announced Tuesday that it suspended Washington Nationals rookie pitcher A.J. Cole five games for intentionally throwing close to the head of Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang during Sunday afternoon’s contest.

Cole will appeal the suspension. 

The feud began in the third inning when Nationals star Bryce Harper tripled down the right field line. The throw from Pirates right fielder Josh Bell sailed over both cutoff men and bounced well to the left of third base, where Harper was headed. 

As Kang covered third, he faked as though the ball was coming at him by pretending to prepare for a tag. To beat the imaginary tag attempt, Harper slid awkwardly into third, where he injured his hand, which forced him to leave the game:

According to the Washington Post‘s Chelsea Janes, Harper jammed his thumb and underwent X-rays on Monday. He isn’t expected to miss much time. 

Harper missed Monday night’s game and is not in the Nationals’ lineup for Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacksper Rotowire.

He had torn the ligament in his left thumb in 2014 and was initially worried that it happened again Sunday, voicing his displeasure with Kang’s actions in the process, per Janes:

First initial thought in my head was my UCL [ulnar collateral ligament] was gone and I’ll have to go back through surgery and things like that. Right now, I don’t feel that feeling. More like a jam, like in basketball kind of thing. Just a bad play. Ball’s up the line, shouldn’t do it. I understand the deke at second base, double play kind of thing. But that kind of thing? It’s not part of the game.

In the bottom of the inning, Cole seemingly came to the defense of his teammate by unleashing a fastball that sailed behind Kang, which ushered an immediate ejection. 

The benches proceeded to clear, but that was the extent of the fireworks. 

Per MLB.com, Cole is the Nationals’ 13th-ranked prospect and is 1-2 with a 5.09 ERA in seven games this season. 

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