Max Scherzer tied the MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a 3-2 win over Detroit on Wednesday. The former Cy Young winner was dominant throughout, striking out eight Tigers in the first three innings and blowing away the final 12 over the last six.
And yet, Scherzer’s ERA is still 4.15.
“Yeah, his overall year this year actually has not been that great,” MLB insider C.J. Nitkowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We saw a lot more solid contact so far early in 2016 than we were used to seeing with Max Scherzer. The stuff was always there, the velocity wasn’t down, so you really weren’t concerned. You knew he was going to come around. Whenever you watch guys struggle a little bit, you always look to see if there’s any diminished velocity (and ask) are the breaking balls not the same? None of that has been the case with Max Scherzer. He’s always been a high-intensity guy, he’s always had great stuff – we’re seeing him right now in his prime. He’s still an emotional guy, but I think he knows how to control those emotions a little bit more than he has in years past. That certainly comes with age as well. But last night we all saw it come together.”
Scherzer struck out Miguel Cabrera three times. Even more impressive, Scherzer needed just six pitches to record the first two.
“That’s a pretty special thing to do,” Nitkowski said. “It’s one thing when you’re talking about Justin Upton, who’s leading Major League Baseball in strikeouts. He swings and misses a ton. But to see what Max Scherzer did against his old teammates and Miguel Cabrera – it’s not an easy thing to do.”
The Nationals (21-13), despite dropping five of seven overall, still have the third-best record in the NL. It’ll be interesting to see if the roster, which has been as talented as any in the majors for several years, can overcome its string of disappointing seasons.
“They’ve been such a great team on paper, but they haven’t put it together,” Nitkowski said. “When you watch that team and you talk to some people, they always just seemed to be this missing X-Factor. Sometimes losing brings out the worst in people, so if you’re not winning, sometimes the personalities will struggle and maybe not be where you want them to be. But you’re right on Dusty Baker. I think that’s part of it without a doubt. But Bryce Harper has become such an interesting character and an important one, I think, for Major League Baseball because he’s so outspoken, he plays the game with emotion and he wears those emotions on his sleeve.”
We saw that Monday night, when Harper was ejected for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout with umpire Brian Knight. That, however, didn’t stop him from celebrating a walk-off homer on the field and cursing in Knight’s direction.
“I’ll never judge a guy for his emotion in the middle of a competition,” Nitkowski said. “I just won’t. When you’re competing, the last thing you’re thinking about is having good manners and being a good sport. You just want to win. Sometimes those emotions will boil over. Now, postgame, I would have liked to have seen Bryce Harper maybe back off a little bit and say, ‘My emotions got the best of me.’ He didn’t really do that. He was kind of unapologetic about cursing at an umpire and it being caught on tape.”
Still, Nitkowski didn’t think Harper deserved to be suspended.
“I think it’s a fine,” Nitkowski said. “I don’t think it’s a suspension. He’ll appeal it and I have a feeling he’ll get that overturned.”
Looking elsewhere in the majors, Nitkowski said that Jake Arrieta, who is 6-0 with a 1.13 ERA, will soon be in line for a five- or six-year contract worth at least $30 million annually, and that David Ortiz, despite a brilliant career, could miss out on Cooperstown.
“The Hall of Fame stuff is going to come into play because of the PED allegations that were out there and the information that we do have,” Nitkowski said. “He has been very defiant about that and he doesn’t want that to taint his legacy, and I don’t think it will. I think we are getting to the point where we have been saturated with so many PED stories that people don’t get as worked up about them as they used to, especially the circumstances surrounding him specifically. It was supposed to be anonymous testing and then it was leaked that he was a guy that tested positive. You have to take that for what it’s worth.
“But he’s a legend in Boston no matter what,” Nitkowski said. “Everything that went on, how great of a player he was and of course everything with the Marathon bombings and how he has led a city in the past and the great personality – without a doubt he will be revered in that town forever. I will say nationally in baseball, though, there may be – I don’t want to say negativity, but there will always be that look at him and kind of being reminded of what happened with the PEDs. We’ll find out soon enough, but I think it’s probably unfortunately going to affect his Hall of Fame chances.”