Max Scherzer finished the 2018 campaign with an (18-7) record in 33 starts for Washington’s Nationals, with a 2.53 ERA, a 2.65 FIP, 51 walks (2.08 BB/9), 300 strikeouts (12.24 K/9), and a .188/.247/.332 line against in 220 2⁄3 innings pitched, over which he was worth a career-high 7.4 fWAR.
Scherzer, 34, led all National League starters in total strikeouts, K/9, K/BB (5.88), in WHIP (0.911), in opponents’ AVG, total innings, and in wins, finished second in opponents’ OBP and fWAR, and ended up third overall in ERA, ERA+ (168), opponents’ AVG with RISP (.153), and opponents’ OPS and SLG.
New York Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom, who was one vote shy of a unanimous Cy Young award, finished his fifth season in the majors (10-9) in 32 starts, with a 1.70 ERA, a 1.99 FIP, 46 walks, (1.61 BB/9), 269 Ks (11.16 K/9), and a .196/.244/.277 line against in 217 IP, over which he was worth a career-best 9.0 fWAR.
Among qualified NL starters, deGrom, 30, finished first in quality starts (tied with Scherzer), opponents’ OBP, fWAR, ERA, ERA+ (216), opponents’ OPS (.521), and opponents’ SLG, and he finished second in total Ks, K/9, K/BB (5.85), WHIP (0.912), innings, and opponents’ AVG with RISP, while finishing fourth in opponents’ AVG.
Scherzer and deGrom went head-to-head Thursday, on Opening Day in the nation’s capital.
It was the first matchup of first and second-place finishers in the previous year’s NL Cy Young race since 1979.
deGrom told reporters earlier this Spring that he was excited about the opportunity to go against Scherzer in the opener.
“That’s who you want to start against,” deGrom said, as quoted on Twitter by MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo.
“That’s why we do this, to compete. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, so I’m looking forward to that matchup.”
Scherzer said that, of course, he wasn’t really “facing” the opposing pitcher.
“You’re cognizant when you’re facing someone as good as Jake, you’ve got to bring your A-game,” he explained, “but it’s Opening Day, everybody is going to bring their A-game.
“Nobody is coming out flat the first game of the year. Everybody is going to be coming out full-tilt, so you expect that. And for me, I’m facing their lineup, I’m not necessarily facing Jake, and he’s not facing me, he’s facing our lineup, so really the contest is between us and the hitting coaches.”
How about the rest of the Nationals? How did they feel about the marquee Opening Day pitching matchup and going up against deGrom?
“I think that’s must-see TV,” Adam Eaton told reporters before the final exhibition game of the Spring. “Two of the best. NL Cy Young winners the last whatever, how many years — I don’t know how many Scherzer has won, but deGrom won last year, right? Shows you how much I pay attention, but he’s a good pitcher. Like I said, should be fun, hopefully. Fun for them anyways. Fun for baseball people who like good pitching. As a hitter and a leadoff hitter, the task is going to be heavy for all of us to scrape across a couple runs, but that’s again, if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, so why not start on Opening Day.”
“We’re going to go face deGrom the first day and it’s not going to be easy,” Trea Turner said, though he acknowledged the matchup is going to be a good one.
“Every year you get the two best pitchers for each team facing off for Opening Day,” Turner added, “so it’s never easy. Those guys came off unbelievable seasons last year, both of them. deGrom won [the Cy Young] and then Max won for the last few years, so it’s going to be a heck of a pitching matchup and hopefully we can put a few up on them.”
Ryan Zimmerman was asked if he’s looking forward to the pitching matchup.
“Yeah, I guess. We see it all the time. It should be fun though,” Zimmerman said.
“I’m excited to watch ‘Mad Max’ compete,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said before the first game of the season, adding that he was also excited to, “[watch] the guys grind it out against the Cy Young award-winner, and a team that we’re going to have to battle all season like the rest of the division to win it.”
“I’ve got to be careful not to be a fan today,” Manager Davey Martinez said, “but you can get caught up in the moment seeing those two guys out there, they’re surely two of the best, so it’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of excitement. Fans should be super-excited about what’s going to happen today, and you’re going to see two good ones out there.”
Scherzer cracked first in the season opener, giving up a two-out solo homer to left-center on a 1-1 changeup to Robinson Canó in the top of the first inning.
deGrom held the Nationals to four hits through five, striking out nine of the 19 batters he faced. Scherzer struck out 10 of the first 21 batters he faced, holding the Mets to just the one run through six.
deGrom came back out for the bottom of the sixth, and worked around a leadoff single and two stolen bases in a 16-pitch frame that ended his outing.
Scherzer worked around a two-out walk, completing seven innings on 93 pitches with 10 Ks from 25 batters, and he came back in the eighth and picked up his 11th and 12th before he was lifted from what ended up a 2-0 loss to the Mets.
Jacob deGrom’s Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 Ks, 93 P, 59 S, 2/2 GO/FO.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 12 Ks, 109 P, 76 S, 7/3 GO/FO.
“We faced one of the best pitchers in the game, and we were in the game the whole game,” Martinez told reporters after the season-opening loss.
“Jake stepped up and made the pitches when it counted,” Mets’ skipper Mickey Callaway said after starting the season with a win.
“Scherzer was on top of his game. Our guys didn’t quit.”
We got some chances against Jake,” Scherzer said after his first start of 2019. “[deGrom] made some good pitches today, and he just got out of some jams. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat. He pitched well. From their offensive standpoint, Canó had a good swing — I left that pitch a little middle and he put a good swing [on it] and was able to hit a solo shot, so there’s a lot of good from our end that happened today, but it just wasn’t enough to get it done today.”
“Obviously you want it a little more away,” Scherzer said of the pitch Canó hit out, “but it just stayed a little bit more middle, but I mean, he’s a great hitter and he just put a great swing on it, so missed by just a little bit too much over the middle and you do that in this league, and you get burned.”
“Those are games that are fun,” deGrom said, as quoted on MLB.com after the game. “You know every pitch matters.”
Juan Soto, who went 0 for 2 with a walk against deGrom, leaving him 1 for 5 against the right-hander in his career, talked after the game about what it’s like to face a pitcher like the Mets’ ace.
“It’s like they always try to be aggressive every time they come to you,” Soto said, through a translator, “they don’t give you a chance, so you’ve got to be ready for it every time you go and play, every pitch you’ve got to fight, so that’s one of the tough parts.”
“You all can see what happens when two Cy Young winner go head-to-head, it’s a heck of a battle,” Adam Eaton said (1 for 3, K). “With that being said, I think we had our chances, early on, in the middle innings as well, and their bullpen came in and did the job they’re supposed to do, but like I said, we had some chances early on and didn’t execute, and that’s kind of how it goes, though again, with the talent that’s on the mound, Max pitched a heck of a game.”
“We put some good swings,” Eaton continued, “I think we had some guys on, I’m not sure how many we had left on base, 4-6 something like that versus him, and I think the caliber that he is, 4-6 in six innings is not a terrible statistic. Like I said, we just have to make sure we drive in those runs when they’re out there, and make sure we make the most of it.”
The toughest part of facing deGrom?
“When you have a 1.00-something ERA, I don’t know what the heck he had last year, 2.00-something,” Eaton said, “... it just basically means you’re going to have a couple shots, and you better make the most of it, and if you don’t you’re not going to be successful. The same thing with an at bat, you usually get one pitch an at bat with him, sometimes you don’t get a pitch with him, and if you miss it the at bat is kind of over. Same thing with Max, I don’t know how many he struck out today, but I don’t think I had a ball hit to me all day. I got bored out there. But again, that’s how it goes, if you don’t hit the pitch you’re supposed to hit, I’m sorry, game’s over for you.
“As a fan, I think, as a player it’s tough, but as a fan I bet you they enjoyed those two guys going pitch-by-pitch, it’s pretty cool to watch.”
“I thought we had good at bats for the most part all day,” Nationals’ shortstop Trea Turner said after going 2 for 3 with two singles and three stolen bases with deGrom on the hill.
“Making him work, I think we got him out of there in six innings, and he was throwing pretty well, so for me there’s some positives there, we’ve just got to build on it and move on.”