In his Monday start against the Cardinals, Max Scherzer — the Dodgers‘ marquee trade deadline addition — struck out 13 batters against zero walks and allowed only one unearned run across eight innings. With that gem, Scherzer moved tantalizingly close to a rare career benchmark and also further burnished his credentials as a leading candidate for NL Cy Young Award honors.
First, there’s that career benchmark. As of Monday’s outing, Scherzer is at 2,994 career strikeouts, which means he’s six shy of becoming just the 19th pitcher in MLB history to strike out 3,000 or more. Maybe the 3,000 Strikeout Club doesn’t get the bandwidth that some other career thresholds do, but it’s an incredibly rare achievement. For comparison’s sake, the 300 Win Club (24 members); the 500 Home Run Club (28 members); and the 3,000 Hit club (32 members) all have significantly higher populations.
Of the 18 moundsman presently with 3,000 or more strikeouts just four — Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander — are not in the Hall of Fame. Sabathia isn’t yet eligible, Verlander is still active, and Clemens and Schilling would likely be in if not for “character clause” considerations. Scherzer is almost certainly going to join that healthy majority in Cooperstown. He’s at 188 wins, and he has a career WAR of 65.7. That figure ranks 43rd all-time among pitchers. Given that Scherzer, a pending free agent, is still pitching at an elite level even though he’s 36, he’s going to buoy those totals by a quite a bit in the years to come. All of this is to say, it’ll be an injustice if he doesn’t breeze in on the first ballot.
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Speaking of “still pitching at an elite level,” Scherzer, as noted above, has realistic designs on the Cy Young. At time of his trade to the Dodgers on July 30, Scherzer with the Nationals this season had a 2.76 ERA with a 5.25 K/BB ratio — good enough for an All-Star appearance. Since the trade, however, Scherzer’s reached new heights. In seven starts for the Dodgers, Scherzer has a 1.05 ERA, and in 43 innings he struck out 63 versus five walks. In his worst start as a Dodger, he allowed two runs in six innings, and in matters related the Dodgers are 7-0 in his starts.
“He’s fit in seamlessly, and he’s made a very good team even better,” L.A. manager Dave Roberts told reports, including MLB.com’s Juan Toribio, after Scherzer’s start against the Cardinals. “I feel very fortunate to get to know him and build a relationship, but the bottom line is he makes our ballclub better every single day — not just those days that he’s pitching.”
Combine his otherworldly run with the Dodgers with his strong Nationals body of work, and you have a Cy Young resume for 2021 (the fact that Scherzer was traded within the league helps, of course). Consider his present merits:
- His combined ERA of 2.28 leads the majors.
- His combined ERA+ of 178 also leads the majors.
- His 210 strikeouts rank second in the NL.
- His 6.36 K/BB ratio ranks second in the NL.
- His WAR of 5.6 ranks third in the NL.
- His average Game Score of 64.8 leads the NL.
Assuming Scherzer stays on regular rest for the remainder of the regular season, he should have four starts left. (In the event that the Dodgers and Giants wind up tied for the NL West title, Scherzer would probably be in line to start the tiebreaker.) That’s ample opportunity to add volume to those numbers and solidify his status. Relatedly, Caesars right now has Scherzer’s teammate Walker Buehler as the Cy Young favorite in the NL (+160), but Scherzer is right behind him (+275). In the event that Scherzer does pull it off, he’d become the second pitcher to win the Cy Young after switching teams during the season in question. The first was Rick Sutcliffe in 1984. More important, Scherzer would join Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to win four or more Cy Young awards.
So what do you call a pitcher who’s bound headlong for 3,000 strikeouts and at age 36 is in the mix for a fourth Cy? A future Hall of Famer, that’s what. With the way he’s pitching for the powerhouse Dodgers, you might also soon call Scherzer a world champion for the second time in his career.