Max Scherzer went five innings in the NL Wild Card Game, giving up four hits, three walks, and three runs, then he came on in relief in Game 2 of the NLDS, striking out the side in a dominant, 14-pitch performance out of the bullpen.
In his outings in Game 4 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and Game 2 of the NLCS with the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington’s 35-year-old, three-time Cy Young award-winning ace, gave up a combined five hits, five walks, and one earned run in 14 innings pitched, and he struck out 18 of the 51 batters he faced, while holding opposing hitters to a .109/.196/.197 line.
After missing time in July and August while dealing with scapulothoracic bursitis and then a mild rhomboid strain, Scherzer, in his last two outings before tonight’s, started to look more like himself than he had since returning from the IL.
“I loved the team that we had in ‘12 and obviously I love this team we have here in ‘19,” Scherzer told reporters in his pre-World Series press conference, when asked how the Tigers and Nationals’ teams compared.
The chemistry in the Nationals’ clubhouse this year, he said, is unique. “We’re just playing good baseball together. We’re really firing on all cylinders. And there’s just -- we’ve got some mojo going, that’s the easiest way to describe it. That we just seem to be playing great baseball together, and anybody who gets their number called just continues to step up and perform for the team.”
“[It’s] not just one guy that’s going out there and carrying the load, it’s not two,” he added, “it’s really the whole team. I know Howie [Kendrick] was very deserving of the NLCS MVP, and he’s rightfully MVP, but it could have been anybody. We had so many contributions from everywhere across the team that it all allowed for us to be in this position.”
How they got to the World Series, after a 19-31 start to the season, has been one of the big narratives since the Nationals started to turn things around in late May, and Scherzer’s take on how they got to the position they’re in now was an elaborate one.
“We dealt with some injuries,” he said. “We weren’t playing good baseball in the beginning, it’s obvious. And so we were what our record said. Obviously we just didn’t do anything -- we got some key guys back from injury, especially with Trea Turner and [Juan] Soto, when they got healthy again and our lineup started firing.
“And our pitchers started pitching better and we started running the bases better, and we just started doing all the little things better, everything we set out in Spring Training to do. We just happened to get out of the gates the first 50 games pretty slow.
“After that, we’ve been playing to our potential. This whole time, even from the moment we got to Spring Training, we knew we could compete with anybody. Obviously we’ve proven that, that we can compete with anybody in this League, and we’re good enough for that.
“Nothing has changed my mind whether that slump we hit in the beginning or how we played in the end, it’s just a matter of going out there and playing high-quality baseball, and making the other team beat us and not beat ourselves.”
Tonight in Game 1, Scherzer is going up against Gerrit Cole, who’s been dominant all season and even more so in the postseason, which the Nationals’ ace said definitely provides some additional motivation.
“Of course,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been in the situation, faced really good pitchers here in the National League over the years; [Clayton] Kershaw, [Jacob] deGrom, those guys. You just know you’ve got to come out there, you’re going to be throwing up zeros. And you’ve got to try to match the intensity from your opponent.
“And Cole’s had a terrific year. So obviously it’s going to be one heck of a challenge.”
Cole said he’s been equally impressed by the Nationals’ starter for the series opener when he was asked what he admired most about Scherzer.
“There’s a lot of things,” Cole said. “So most -- I think probably most his determination because I feel like that -- I feel like that word kind of covers how he competes, how he prepares. You have to be determined to be durable.
“My gosh, he’s as durable as they come. You have to be determined to be prepared. And he’s as prepared as they come. And then his presence on the mound is determined.
“He’s got a job to do and he wants to go out and do it and just put the blinders on and get after the ball.”
Scherzer will have to navigate the Astros’ lineup, in Houston, so that means the Designated Hitter as well, though he has plenty of experience with AL lineups from the time he spent in Detroit.
“Obviously it’s tougher to pitch with a DH, things happen,” Scherzer said.
“The couple of times I have pitched with it,” he continued, “... it’s just a different feel to the game of not grabbing a bat. I’ve definitely grown accustomed to doing that, it kind of keeps you in the game flow even more. It feels weird when you get to the DH and you’re not in that flow of the game offensively.
“It’s different, but at the same time my job is to go out there and stay on the hill and throw pitches.”
Scherzer will start to throw pitches just after 8:08 PM EDT, when the 115th World Series gets underway with two of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound in Houston. Is it 8:08 yet?