5. Scherzer vs Chicago: Washington Nationals' starter Max Scherzer went eight innings on 110 pitches last time out in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the nation's capital, giving up just four hits, a walk and one earned run.
Before tonight's outing, in the finale of the Nats' three-game series against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, the 30-year-old right-hander who signed a blockbuster 7-year/$210M deal this winter, was (5-3) with a 1.67 ERA, 2.02 FIP, nine walks (1.25 BB/9), 72 Ks (10.02 K/9) and a .199/.234/.290 line against in nine starts and 64 ⅔ IP.
Scherzer went over a hundred pitches for the fifth time in that start, and went at least seven innings for the eighth time in nine outings.
Nationals' manager Matt Williams said he was perfectly comfortable letting Scherzer go deep into games.
"Early in his career we would find him at 100 pitches through five a lot of times," Williams explained.
"But he's developed into someone that can throw the breaking ball for a strike, get into a count early, get ahead early and then go to work, and doesn't have to rely on the fastball necessarily to do so. They had a good approach against him tonight, they got balls up in the strike zone to hit, but he can be efficient that way and get deep into a game, get into the eighth and through the eighth inning for us."
"He's got all four pitches that he's able to throw for strikes and that's key for any pitcher I think," the second-year skipper said.
"If you have four of them that you can throw for a strike at any time, then as a hitter I would know that I just couldn't sit on something or I'd find myself behind in the count."
Scherzer said his curveball, in particular, was sharp and helpful against Philadelphia's left-hand heavy lineup.
"Early in the game I was able to flip it in there in the zone and out of the zone when I needed to and when I'm able to do that, that's a good sign for me," he told reporters.
"When I'm able to [pitch with my curveball] -- I always have a feel for my changeup -- so it really allows me to pitch with three pitches to lefties, and kind of keeps them at bay multiple times through the lineup."
Max Scherzer loves numbers, and this number works for him: Just 13.9 pitches per inning this season, the best in MLB. http://t.co/9BUCWQ1YBr— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 28, 2015
Scherzer was making the third start of his career in Wrigley Field tonight, and the first since 2012.
The outing began with back-to-back Ks on a 96 mph 3-2 fastball to Cubs' leadoff man Chris Coghlan and a filthy 82 mph 1-2 curve to Anthony Rizzo. Scherzer missed with a 3-1 slider outside that Kris Bryant took for ball four, but Dexter Fowler popped out to left field to end a 17-pitch frame.
Starlin Castro lined a single to center in the first at bat of the Cubs' second, but three outs later he was stranded at first base and Scherzer was through two scoreless on 28 pitches after an 11-pitch inning.
Addison Russell sent a one-hop liner to center for a leadoff single off Scherzer in the home-half of the third. One out later, Cubs' first baseman Anthony Rizzo lined a 1-2 change to right for a single of his own. Kris Bryant's fly to center allowed Russell to tag and take third, but a 97 mph 2-2 fastball got Dexter Fowler swinging for out no.3 of a 20-pitch frame. 48 total.
Junior Lake doubled to the right field corner with one down in the Cubs' fourth, but David Ross K'd swinging at a 2-2 slider inside for the second out of the inning and Jon Lester dropped to 0 for 59 career when he went down swinging at a 97 mph 2-2 heater. 14-pitch frame, 6 Ks, 62 pitches total.
Addison Russell K'd swinging through a 98 mph 2-2 heater. A 3-2 fastball got Chris Coghlan swinging. K no.8. Anthony Rizzo fell behind 0-2 and sent a fly to left to end a 17-pitch inning. 79 total. Still 1-0 Nats.
Kris Bryant went down swinging at a 1-2 slider for Scherzer's ninth K. Dexter Fowler K'd looking at a 2-2 bender. 10 Ks. Starlin Castro...? Single through short. Junior Lake stepped in with a runner on and two out and went down swinging at a 1-2 curve in the dirt. 11 Ks. 15-pitch frame, 94 total.
After a groundout from pinch hitter Miguel Montero, pinch hitter Mike Baxter K'd swinging at a 96 mph fastball for Scherzer's 12th K. Addison Russell missed a 2-2 change. 13 Ks. 14-pitch frame, 108 pitches overall.
• Max Scherzer's Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 Ks, 108 P, 72 S, 1/5 GO/FO.
4. MW on Lester: Following a rough-ish (0-2) April in which he put up a 6.23 ERA, a 2.21 FIP, five walks (2.08 BB/9), 24 Ks (9.79 K/9) and a .319/.354/.456 line against in his first four starts and 21 ⅔ IP for the Cubs after signing a six-year/$155M contract this winter, Jon Lester has bounced back nicely in the month of May.
In five May starts before tonight's, the 31-year-old lefty was (4-0) with a 1.85 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 10 walks (2.65 BB/9) and 27 Ks (7.15 K/9) in 34 IP over which he'd held opposing hitters to a combined .221/.286/.380 line.
Nationals' manager Matt Williams told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies this morning, that Lester presented a difficult matchup for the Nats' hitters when he talked about how to approach the southpaw.
"It's a little bit different than it is against [Kyle] Hendricks," Williams said, referring to last night's sinker-balling right-hander, who gave up just one run on four hits in seven innings.
"Lester, for the righties, is going to throw the cutter in, he's going to throw the sinker away, curveball along with it.
"He's a pro, he's been around forever, he's battle-tested, he understands it. So for us tonight it's get the ball up, we've got to get a pitch up in the strike zone to hit."
Tonight's outing was Lester's fourth against the Nationals in his ten major league seasons.
In the previous three, the lefty was (2-0) with a 3.32 ERA, six walks (2.84 BB/9) and 25 Ks (11.84 K/9) in 19 IP in which he held Washington's hitters to a .211/.273/.282 line.
Lester struck out the side in the first inning tonight, stranding Ian Desmond at second after the Nationals' shortstop's one-out double to left.
After a 17-pitch first, the Cubs' lefty retired the Nationals in order in a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 second that left him at 26 total after two.
Denard Span singled through the right side with two down in the top of the third, but Ian Desmond popped out to second to end a 10-pitch third. 36 total.
Yunel Escobar singled to left to start the fourth and Bryce Harper walked to put two on in front of Ryan Zimmerman, who grounded into what looked like a 4-6-3, but a throwing error by Addison Russell allowed Escobar to come in, 1-0 Nationals. Wilson Ramos took the second walk of the inning to put two on with one out, but back-to-back Ks from Dan Uggla and Tyler Moore ended the threat there. 34-pitch fourth. 70 total for Lester.
Max Scherzer singled to start the fifth, but was doubled up on a grounder to second off Denard Span's bat. Ian Desmond doubled to left, by third, for his second two-base hit of the game, but he was stranded at second when Yunel Escobar grounded out to end a six-pitch frame. 76 total for Lester.
Bryce Harper went with a 93 mph 2-1 fastball outside and powered it out to left for an opposite field blast and a 2-0 lead. Back-to-back Ks from Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos followed, but an error by Starlin Castro put Dan Uggla on with two out, but Tyler Moore grounded out to third to end a 15-pitch frame. 91 total.
Denard Span singled with one down in the top of the seventh, but two outs later he was stranded on the basepaths. 15-pitch seventh for Lester, 106 pitches total.
• Jon Lester's Line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks, 106 P, 69 S, 9/0 GO/FO.
3. CHC vs D.C.: The split of the first two games of the Nationals' three-game set in Wrigley Field left Washington 19-11 against Chicago since 2010, with five wins in the last seven games, though the two teams have played a number of tight contests, especially in the Cubs' home, where they've had 13 of 19 games since 2010 decided by two runs or less.
For the Cubs, close games are nothing special. Nine of their thirteen wins in May have been decided by one run, and they entered play tonight 13-10 in one-run games this season, with the thirteen wins in one-run games the most by any major league team.
As mentioned in Chicago's pregame notes, four of the last five and five of the Cubs' last eight games were decided by a single run.
The Nationals started the night 10-5 in one-run games this season, with eight straight series wins.
With Max Scherzer and Jon Lester on the mound in the series finale, it seemed likely to be another tightly-contested matchup.
It was 1-0 Nationals after five in Wrigley Field, when Bryce Harper hit a solo home run to left field off Lester to make it a two-run game, 2-0. 3-0 final. Nationals take two of three in Wrigley. Nine straight series wins.
2. Turning Point(s): Turning Point no.1: The moment Max Scherzer took the mound.
• Cubs' skipper Joe Maddon talked last night about executing and doing the little things right in order to beat good teams, but an error early in tonight's game put Chicago in a 1-0 hole.
Yunel Escobar singled to start the fourth and moved into scoring position at second when Bryce Harper took his NL-leading 41st walk in the next at bat. Ryan Zimmerman stepped in next and grounded to short for what looked like it would be a 6-4-3, but Addison Russell bounced the 4-3 throw to first and Anthony Rizzo couldn't pick it. Escobar scored on the error and the Nats took an early lead.
• Bryce Harper got good wood on a 93 mph 2-1 fastball from Jon Lester in the first at bat of the sixth and sent his 18th home run of the season out to left field to make it 2-0 Nationals.
• Matt Grace took over for the Nationals in the eighth and failed to retire anyone, giving up a double to left by Jorge Soler and then hitting Anthony Rizzo before Nats' skipper Matt Williams went to the pen. Casey Janssen took over with two on and no one out and retired the next three batters. Shutdown.
1. The Wrap-Up: Cubs' lefty James Russell walked Bryce Harper in the first at bat of the eighth. Jason Motte took over on the mound with Ryan Zimmerman up. Zimmerman lined out to right for the first out of the frame, Wilson Ramos K'd swinging for out no.2 and Dan Uggla lined out to seond to end the frame.
Matt Grace took over on the mound in the eight and promptly surrendered a leadoff double to left on the first pitch he threw to Jorge Soler. Grace hit Rizzo with a 3-1 sinker to put two on, so Matt Williams went to Casey Janssen.
Kris Bryant started up 2-0, but popped out on a 2-2 curve. Dexter Fowler bunted one back to the mound that Janssen jumped on before skipping a throw to first for out no.2. Starlin Castro grounded out to short. 2-0 Nationals after eight.
Travis Wood gave up a solo home run to left by Danny Espinosa, 3-0 Nats after eight.
Drew Storen gave up a one-out single by Jonathan Herrera, but Addison Russell grounded into a force at second to end it. 3-0 final.
Nationals now 28-19