Tag Archives: Max Scherzer

NL’s Cy Young Award has gone to a Phillies hurler seven times

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Denny won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award for his performance with the Phillies that season

 

Major League Baseball continues the announcement of its 2019 awards on Wednesday evening. The top pitchers in both the National and American Leagues will be honored as the Cy Young Award winners are publicly revealed in a 6:00 pm EST broadcast on the MLB Network.

Those will be the more formally recognized awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. However, a few hours earlier, the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) will announce the winners of voting from their membership.

The 2019 American League Cy Young Award finalists are teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the AL champion Houston Astros and former Phillies pitcher Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays. Verlander previously won the award back in 2011 and is a three-time runner-up for the honors.

In the National League, the finalists are last year’s winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and three-time winner Max Scherzer of the world champion Washington Nationals. Both Ryu and Cole are free agents this off-season.

My choices are Cole and deGrom. Those are the two men who received my IBWAA vote.

MLB first began recognizing the best pitcher in baseball with this formal award with the 1956 season. For the first 11 years, just one winner for all of Major League Baseball was honored.

Due to an overwhelming outpouring of fan requests, a winner was honored from both the National and American Leagues beginning with the 1957 season.

In 1969, the American League vote ended in a tie between Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles, and for the only time in the history of the award it was shared. Voting rules were changed as a result, with just one winner honored thereafter.

While the Cy is generally considered to be an honor for the top starting pitcher in the game, that is not a requirement. Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first reliever to take the honors in 1974, and eight other relievers have since won the award across the two leagues. The most recent was Eric Gagne of the Dodgers back in 2003.

Roger Clemens holds a record for having won the award seven times. A pair of former Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez, are among a group of a half-dozen hurlers to be honored with the Cy in both leagues at some point during their careers.

The late Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer Halladay is one of just four pitchers to take home a National League Cy Young Award while a member of the Fightin’ Phils pitching staff.

Halladay was the unanimous winner of the award after a historic 2010 season in which he threw a Perfect Game as well as just the second postseason no-hitter in MLB history. He registered an incredible 8.6 WAR value that year, winning 21 games and tossing 250.2 innings with nine complete games.

In 1983, right-hander John Denny captured the honors with the Phillies “Wheeze Kids” team that would go on to win the National League pennant. Denny received 20 of 24 first-place votes to finish as an easy winner.

That Cy followed a 19-win season during which he tossed 242.2 innings over 36 starts. Denny was also the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year in that first full season after coming to the Phillies from the Cleveland Indians in a September 1982 trade.

Four years later, the only Phillies relief pitcher to ever win the Cy took the honors in one of the closest votes ever. Steve Bedrosian saved 40 games for the team that year, exactly half of their total 1987 wins total. He worked 89 innings over 65 games, allowing 79 hits with 74 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA.

“Bedrock” received just nine of 24 first-place votes, but came out the winner with 57 total voting points. That total edged out the 55 received by Rick Sutcliffe (four first-place) of the Chicago Cubs and 54 for Rick Reuschel (eight first-place), who split the season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.

Halladay, Denny, Bedrosian. Those are three of the seven times that a Phillies pitcher has taken the NL honors. As I said earlier, four pitchers have won the award while with the club. Which means that the fourth hurler would put four Cy Young Awards into his trophy case.

That hurler was, of course, lefty Steve Carlton. The greatest pitcher in Phillies franchise history, Carlton won the Cy for his performances on the mound in the 1972, 1977, 1980, and 1982 campaigns.

That first win in 1972 was one of the most impressive pitching performances in Major League Baseball history. In his first season after arriving from the Saint Louis Cardinals in a spring training trade for Rick Wise, Carlton was the unanimous winner of what has been ranked as the ninth-greatest Cy Young season in history.

The man who became alternately known as “Lefty” or “Super Steve” won 27 games with a putrid Phillies team that would win just 59 games. He made 41 starts with 30 complete games, numbers that are unheard of in today’s game. Carlton allowed just 257 hits over 346.1 innings with 310 strikeouts, registering a 1.97 ERA and 0.993 WHIP.

In 1977, Carlton won 23 games while tossing 283 innings over 36 starts. He registered 17 complete games and struck out 198 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.124 WHIP. That performance allowed him to receive 17 of 26 first-place votes and finish comfortably ahead of runner-up Tommy John of the Dodgers.

For his performance during the Phillies first-ever World Series-winning campaign in 1980, Carlton became just the third pitcher to ever win three Cy’s, joining Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver with that distinction.

That year, the lefty won 24 games, with 38 of his starts resulting in 13 complete games. He struck out 286 batters while allowing just 243 hits across 304 innings pitched. Carlton registered a 2.34 ERA and 1.095 WHIP, and received 23 of the 24 first-place votes as the runaway winner.

Two years later, Carlton became the first pitcher to ever win four career Cy Young Awards, and did so again in runaway fashion, receiving 20 of 24 first-place votes.

That season, Carlton won 23 games while making 38 starts, half of those resulting in complete games. He struck out 286 over 295.2 innings with a 1.147 WHIP for a Phillies team that would battle his old Saint Louis club for the NL East crown down to the last two weeks of the season before falling three games short.

Carlton and Halladay went on to become both Baseball Hall of Famers and Phillies Wall of Famers. Carlton’s 84.1 career WAR mark is the fifth-best in baseball history among left-handed pitchers, while Halladay’s 65.4 mark leaves him among the top 50 hurlers in the history of the game.

Denny had a nice career, winning 123 games over 13 big-league seasons, 37 of those with the Phillies over parts of four years. Bedrosian registered 184 career saves and 76 wins in a 14-year career.

At this time last season, Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola was a finalist for the award after winning 17 games and allowing just 149 hits over 212.1 innings across 33 starts with 224 strikeouts.

Will Nola some day become the fifth Phillies pitcher to capture an NL Cy Young Award? Perhaps Zach Eflin will elevate his game to that level. Or maybe the club will be able to lure Cole or Ryu this winter in free agency and find one of them taking the honors in some future season.

One thing is certain, as the 2011 Phillies who won a franchise record 102 regular season games while featuring a “Four Aces” rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt showed, starting pitching is the name of the game in Major League Baseball.

The Phillies need to upgrade their starting pitching rotation by landing a pair of new, proven arms in the free agent market this winter. If they do, the club should finally once again become a serious challenger for a postseason berth in 2020. And perhaps they’ll also get a Cy Young winner in the bargain.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

Streaking Nationals come to Citizens Bank Park on a roll

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Red-hot Juan Soto leads the streaking Nats into South Philly

The Philadelphia Phillies (47-43) and Washington Nationals (47-42) return to play following four days off for the 2019 MLB All-Star Game break with a Friday night contest at Citizens Bank Park.

These two NL East Division rivals currently control the two National League Wildcard playoff positions in the league standings. However, for nearly two months they have been travelling in opposite directions.
On May 29, the Phillies were 33-22 and held a 3.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings. That same day, the Nats were 24-32 and 9.5 games behind the Phillies.
But since May 24, Washington has forged a 28-11 mark. That is the best record in all of Major League Baseball since that date.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have slumped to a 14-21 record since their May 20 high-water at 11 games over the .500 mark. That is the same record in that time frame as the last place Miami Marlins have fashioned. Only the 13-22 record of the New York Mets over that period has been worse in the division.
All of that – the Phillies hot start, the Nationals recent hot stretch – is now in the rear view mirror. The ultimate story of the 2019 season for these two division rivals is going to be written over the next two and a half months. If the Phillies want to begin to turn their season back around, it has to begin this weekend.
For more than three weeks, the Phillies have faced nothing but NL East Division rivals on the schedule. The club has gone just 9-13 in those games. That stretch ends with this three-game weekend tilt with the Nationals.
The Phillies are going to come out of the stretch with a losing record. But winning this series would still mark a big step forward. It would also move them past the Nationals in the standings heading into a very tough four-game series to open next week with the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both teams have a middle-of-the-road offensive attack. The Nationals rank 14th in all of baseball with their average of 4.94 runs scored per game. The Phillies are right behind, their 4.91 runs per game ranking 15th among the 30 MLB ball clubs.
There is a big difference on the mound. Washington’s pitching staff ranks 5th in the National League with a .247 batting average against, and their .720 OPS against is 3rd in the league. Their pitchers collectively rank 4th in MLB in strikeouts.
The Phillies struggling staff is 14th in both AVG (.265) and OPS against (.799), and they have surrendered 153 home runs, far and away the highest total in the league and third-most in all of baseball. They are also just 22nd in strikeouts.
For the Phillies to actually win this series their pitching staff is going to have to begin stepping up. If the pitchers who are here and healthy right now cannot demonstrate improvement across the board, then the Nationals will keep up their winning ways and begin to pull away in the standings.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Anthony Rendon: (29) 3B – .304/.386/.611 with 20 home runs, 44 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs, 65 runs
Trea Turner: (26) SS – .288/.343/.491 with 7 home runs, 26 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 36 runs, 17 steals (missed 39 games)
Victor Robles: (22) CF – .246/.320/443 with 13 home runs, 39 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs, 47 runs, 12 steals
Howie Kendrick: (35) UT – .327/.378/.563 with 12 home runs, 25 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs, 39 runs
Adam Eaton: (30) RF – .281/.368/.383 with 6 home runs, 18 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 50 runs
Kurt Suzuki (35)/Yan Gomes (31): catching tandem combined for 14 homers and 58 RBIs

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Juan Soto: The 20-year-old left fielder was the runner-up to Ronald Acuna Jr.for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Soto has caught fireand helped lead the Nationals charge back to contending status.
Since May 17 when he was hitting just .228, Soto has slashed .354/.452/.628 with nine home runs, 23 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and 36 runs scored over 164 at-bats across 46 games.
The Nationals manager (see below) was quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr as this series prepares to open:
I think his overall game has gotten better. Everybody talks about his hitting, but I think his outfield play has gotten better. His baserunning’s gotten better. In that aspect, he’s become that polished player. Still young, still learning. Works incredibly in all aspects of the game. But I think we still haven’t seen what he potentially can do as he gets older.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

FRIDAY – Stephen Strasburg (30): 10-4, 3.64 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 3.18 FIP, 92 hits over 116.1 IP across 18 starts with a 138/29 K:BB ratio. That Nationals come out of the break by throwing their three best starting pitchers against the Phillies. Strasburg has largely been dominating in what has been one of the big right-hander’s most complete seasons.
SATURDAY – Patrick Corbin (29): 7-5, 3.34 ERA, 1.112 WHIP, 3.34 FIP, 93 hits over 113.1 IP across 18 starts with a 129/33 K:BB ratio. Signed as a free agent this past off-season, Corbin has been everything the Nationals could have hoped. He provides the club a lone southpaw rotation presence, and a very good one.
SUNDAY – Anibal Sanchez (35): 5-6, 3.66 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, 4.53 FIP, 78 hits over 83.2 IP across 16 starts with a 75/33 K:BB ratio. This was supposed to be a turn for ace Max Scherzer. But ongoing back stiffness is causing the Nationals to skip him and go with 14-year veteran righty Sanchez. 

THE SKIPPER

54-year-old Dave Martinez had 16 years of playing experience in Major League Baseball with nine different organizations between 1986-2001. Four of those seasons from 1988-91 were with the Montreal Expos, the franchise from whom the Nationals are descended.
After retiring as an active player, Martinez became a spring training instructor for the Tampa Bay Rays, for whom he had played during the 1998-2000 seasons. In 2007, Martinez was hired as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach in Tampa, and was in that role as the club won their lone AL pennant and reached the 2008 World Series against the Phillies.
Martinez interviewed for a number of managerial positions over the next few years. When Maddon left following the 2014 campaign, Martinez was passed over for the Rays job and joined Maddon once again as the Chicago Cubs bench coach. In that role he helped the Cubs defeat the Nationals in a 2017 National League Division Series.
On October 30, 2017, Martinez was hired to take over as the Nationals manager. He has a contract running through next year, with a club option for the 2021 season. The Nationals overall record during his first year and a half at the helm is 129-122. His club finished 82-80 last year, good enough for second place in the NL East, but not good enough for a playoff spot.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

Unless you are allergic to sunshine and warm temperatures, weather will play little role in this weekend series down in South Philadelphia. Each day is expected to include high temps right around 90 degrees, lows around 70 degrees, and very few clouds in the sky. A modest breeze each day should keep humidity levels at reasonable summertime levels.
The Nationals have won seven of the 11 meetings between the two division rivals. Bryce Harper has two home runs and eight RBIs in those first 11 games against his former ball club.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies series opposition preview: Washington Nationals

June bug Nats beginning to prove major pests in NL East

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Anthony Rendon has led a Nationals charge back into the race

The Philadelphia Phillies begin the month of July in a far different position than they started out the month of June.

When the calendar made the flip from May to June, the Phillies were on top of the National League East Division standings. Their 33-24 record had the club three full games ahead of the Atlanta Braves to that point.
The month of June was not kind to the Phillies, as the club stumbled to an 11-16 mark. Now, the Phillies begin July in second place, staring up at the Braves through a five-game deficit in the loss column.
The Phillies went 5-2 over this past week, though it was a bit of a mixed bag of results. It began with an uplifting four-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. But this past weekend saw the Marlins capture two of three in Miami to take some wind out of the Phillies sails.
This week’s upcoming games will lead into a four-day break for the MLB All-Star Game.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of the Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week with a presentation of the standings, last week’s results, and the upcoming schedules for each club.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS

EAST DIVISION

    <th aria-label="Win-Loss %" class=" poptip hide_non_quals center" data-filter="1" data-name="Win-Loss %" data-stat="win_loss_perc" data-tip="Win-Loss Percentage
    W / (W + L)
    For players, leaders need one decision for every ten team games.
    For managers, minimum to qualify for leading is 320 games.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>W-L%

    <th aria-label="Games Back" class=" poptip sort_default_asc center" data-stat="games_back" data-tip="Games Back of Division/League Leader
    Computed as games over .500 of leader (W-L) minus games over .500 of team divided by two.
    Typically computed at the end of play for a particular day.
    Blank for 1st game of DH.” scope=”col” style=”background-color: #dadcde; border-color: rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(116, 118, 120) rgb(170, 170, 170); border-image: initial; border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; float: none !important; margin: 0px; opacity: initial; padding: 0px 12.375px; text-align: center;”>GB

    East Division
    Team W L
    Atlanta Braves 50 35 .588
    Philadelphia Phillies 44 40 .524 5.5
    Washington Nationals 42 41 .506 7.0
    New York Mets 38 47 .447 12.0
    Miami Marlins 32 50 .390 16.5

    ATLANTA BRAVES (4 – 3)

    Summary: Atlanta split a four-game set at Wrigley Field with the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, then moved on to Citi Field where they took two of three from the struggling New York Mets.
    While the Phillies were stumbling through their losing June, the Braves went 20-8 to put themselves firmly in control. Now this young and talented ball club will to capture a second straight NL East crown.
    Upcoming: Following Monday’s off-day, the Braves return home from a 10-game road trip on which they went 6-4 to welcome in the Phillies for a huge three-game series at SunTrust Park. Then over the coming weekend they will receive a visit from the Miami Marlins.

    MIAMI MARLINS (1 – 5)

    Summary: The Marlins went 2-4 this past week, with both wins coming against the Phillies at Marlins Park over this past weekend. They had begun the week getting swept in a three-gamer by the visiting Washington Nationals.
    The Marlins competed tough by going 13-14 during the month of June, aided greatly by their 5-1 mark against the Phillies over the past two weekends. Still at 18 games below the .500 mark, with an extremely difficult schedule into early August, the Fish are likely about to get cleaned, scaled, and fried.
    Upcoming: After Monday’s off-day, the Marlins will be paying visits to a pair of division rivals, Washington and Atlanta, for a three-game series with each this week.

    NEW YORK METS (1 – 6)

    Summary: This was a devastating week for the Mets, who built a seven-game losing streak before finally snapping it in Sunday’s series finale with the Braves. They began the week getting swept by the previously ice-cold Phillies, then continued the skid by dropping the first two games to Atlanta at home.
    The month of June was even worse for New York than it was for the Phillies, if you can believe that. The Mets went just 10-18 during the month, plummeting from just a game below the .500 mark and five back in the division race to their current 12 games out.
    Upcoming: Following Monday’s off-day in the schedule it will be two at Citi Field with the New York Yankees in the continuation of this year’s Subway Series. The two local rivals split a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium just three weeks ago. Then the Mets will welcome in the Phillies for three over the coming weekend.

    WASHINGTON NATIONALS (5 – 1)

    Summary: If the Braves are looking back in the standings with concern at anyone these days, it is probably more at the surging Nationals than the slumping Phillies. The Nats began the month of June nine games below .500 and a distant nine off the NL East lead.
    But then it all began to finally click. The Nationals went 18-8 during the month of June to push above the .500 mark. They still trail in the division by seven games, but are within a single game in the loss column of the Phillies and Rockies for the final NL Wildcard berth.
    This past week they swept the Marlins in Miami, then captured two of three Inter-league games at Detroit against the Tigers.
    Upcoming: The Nationals will be home all week following Monday’s off-day. They will try to keep it rolling with three games each against the Marlins and Kansas City Royals.

    For Nationals it’s win now, or possibly lose two superstars

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    The Nats already lost Harper, could Rendon be next star to go?

    The Washington Nationals, who play host to the Phillies in a four-game series this week, have spent the better part of the last seven seasons dominating the National League East Division standings.

    In 2012, the Nationals ended the Phillies five-year grip on the division by capturing the franchise’ first-ever NL East crown. Their direct predecessors, the Montreal Expos, were considered to have finished in first place back in 1994, but that was the strike-ended season that was never completed.
    From 2012-18, the Nationals registered a winning season each year. They captured division titles four times in that span: 2012, 2014, and 2016-17. In each of the other three years, the Nats finished in second place.
    The club was always in the hunt for a playoff berth until suddenly falling into a deep funk from June 10 through September 6. They struggled all summer at 32-46 during that stretch, falling from first place to finish 10 back of the Atlanta Braves in the east and nine games out of a Wildcard.
    In the off-season, the Nationals lost the player who had arguably become the face of the franchise over those seven seasons. Bryce Harper left the team at age 26 to sign as a free agent with the rival Phillies.
    The Nationals brain trust believed that it could cover for the loss of Harper. They had a pair of exciting young Dominican outfielders ready to make an impact on an everyday basis in now 20-year-old Juan Soto, who was the runner-up for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award, and 22-year-old Victor Robles.
    But when the season opened, things didn’t go as planned in our nation’s capital. Injuries and inconsistent play resulted in a horrendous first two months. The Nationals woke up on Friday, May 24 back home after getting swept in four games at Citi Field by the division-rival New York Mets. They were a disheartening 19-31, and were already 10 games off the pace in the NL East.
    Since that time, the Nationals have begun to regain some of their lost mojo. They have fashioned a 14-7 record over the last three weeks, and though still 8.5 out in the division, the Nationals are now just six games behind the Phillies in the race for the final NL Wildcard spot. Of course, there are also five other teams ahead of them in chasing that spot.
    If the Nationals cannot continue to win consistently and make a serious move up in the standings, that brain trust is going to have a couple of extremely difficult decisions to make a month from now as the August 1 MLB trade deadline approaches. Those decisions involved two key players, their third baseman and their top starting pitcher.
    Third baseman Anthony Rendon has been, as Harper was before him, a career Nationals player. Like Harper, he was a first round draft pick, taken by Washington at sixth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. That was right after the club had made Stephen Strasburg and Harper the top overall pick in the two previous drafts.
    He turned 29-years-old at the start of this month, and is leading the team in virtually every offensive category. But also, like Harper last year, Rendon is about to become a free agent at the conclusion of this current season. Though both sides have said that they were willing to remain open to contract discussions as they season went along, there are no signs that the team is making any progress in getting him to agree to forego his first shot at free agency and re-up with a contract extension.
    If you want to go ahead and agree that Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman in the NL today, then you had best understand that Rendon is clearly second in that ranking. If it weren’t for the Rockies outstanding third sacker, Rendon would certainly have a handful of Gold Glove Awards in his trophy case.
    Arenado just signed a seven-year, $260 million deal with Colorado at age 28 years. Already making nearly $19 million for this 2019 season, Rendon is likely going to be looking for that same seven-year package for something at or above the $200 million total mark.
    How Anthony Rendon ranks among NL 3rd basemen:

    1st         On-Base Percentage (.415)
    1st         Slugging Percentage (.660)
    1st         OPS (1.075)
    1st         WAR (3.1)
    1st         wRC+ (169)
    1st         wOBA (.435)
    1st         OPS+ (70)
    2nd       Batting Average (.321)

    39 people are talking about this

    While owner Ted Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo contemplate how high they are willing to go on a Rendon deal, if he even wants to stay, that will not be the only contract consideration they will have on their minds as the trade deadline approaches.
    Ace right-hander Max Scherzer, arguably the best right-handed starting pitcher in the game today and winner of three Cy Young Awards, can exercise his “10-and-5 rights” after this season. That would lock the Nationals into his contract, which call for him to be paid move than $42 million in each of the next two seasons as he turns ages 35 and 36 years of age.
    Scherzer is having yet another great season this year. His 2.27 FIP mark is the best in baseball. His K/9 are actually up a tick, while his BB/9 are down. He has allowed just 87 hits over 99.1 innings across 15 starts with a phenomenal 136/20 K:BB.
    So why would Washington even think of unloading Scherzer at the deadline this year? It would be the combination of those 10-and-5 rights, which would mean that he could veto any trade after this season, combined with his being owed $84 million for two more years as he continues to age.
    If the Nationals are unable to climb back into the race in a serious way, they are at least going to have to entertain the idea of moving Scherzer and Rendon. Each player would bring back a substantial prospect package in trade with which Washington could continue to build a young foundation to battle in what looks like it will be a tough division during the 2020’s.
    So, for the 2019 Washington Nationals, the time is now to keep winning, to keep digging their way out of that early hole. They have seven key games this week, four with the Phillies and three with the Braves. After that, the MLB schedule looks very weak for awhile.

    If they can make up any further ground in these battles with the two clubs ahead of them in the NL East Division, and then do what they would be expected to do with the lesser opposition which the schedule presents over the following few weeks, Washington could end up forced to keep the band together for at least one more strong run this year.

    Max Scherzer stands in the way of Phillies continuing unbeaten start to 2019

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    Max Scherzer presents a big hurdle for unbeaten Phillies

    There has been much warranted hoopla surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies (3-0) visit to the nation’s capital for two games against the Washington Nationals (1-2) this week.

    Much of the talk and excitement is understandably focused on the return of Bryce Harper to face the team for whom he played over the first seven years of his career.
    However, this is also a big early series for the simple fact that these two teams are rivals in the National League East Division. For the very first time in the history of the two clubs since the Nationals franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season, both are expected to be contenders.
    This is just the first of 19 games between the two teams this season. While it certainly will decide nothing on its own, getting off to a good start with a big victory at Nationals Park in front of a hostile crowd would make a nice statement for the Phillies.
    It will not be an easy task. In order to make that big victory happen the Phillies are going to have to find a way to overcome Nationals ace starting pitcher Max Scherzer. The 34-year-old has won three Cy Young Awards and finished among the top five in voting a half-dozen times over his previous 11 big-league seasons, including as the NL runner-up last year.
    Scherzer has fashioned a dominating record over the course of 17 career appearances against the Phillies. The veteran right-hander has faced 445 Philly hitters and held them to a .200 cumulative BAA (batting average against) and .586 OPS. He has struck out 138 of those hitters, the fourth-most that he has registered against any team.
    It has to be mentioned that Scherzer has done the vast majority of that damage over four seasons from 2015-18, when the Phillies were transitioning during a major rebuilding program. The team that he will face tonight bears no resemblance whatsoever to those recent groups.
    After finishing 22nd in Major League Baseball in OPS a year ago the Phillies are now second in that key gauge of offensive proficiency. Sure it’s only after three games. But the improvement in the club’s offensive attack is plain to see.
    The Phillies have added four All-Stars including a pair of former National League Most Valuable Players this season. The first five hitters in the everyday lineup make for one of the most dynamic groups in baseball: Andrew McCutchenJean Segura, Harper, Rhys HoskinsJ.T. Realmuto.
    The new additions have allowed second-year manager Gabe Kapler to slide Odubel HerreraCesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco down to the bottom of the batting order. All three of those players have spent most of the last three or four years hitting at the top.
    It all makes for a more potent lineup top-to-bottom on paper. In the season-opening series against the defending division champion Atlanta Braves that potential translated from paper to reality. The Phillies blasted eight home runs over the three games, fully demonstrating their new-found power.
    Despite scoring 23 runs, there were some hopefully minor warning signs. The Phillies lived off those long balls. Overall they produced just 21 hits, stole just one base, and collectively batted just .236 against a fairly young pitching staff.
    Scherzer has yielded just 237 homers over the course of 339 career games. He has allowed just 45 over 64 games during the last two seasons. In his first start of 2019 he allowed just two hits over 7.2 innings against the New York Mets. One of those was a first inning home run off the bat of Robinson Cano.
    Right-handers have hit just .197 and .577 OPS against Scherzer over his career while lefties have a .243 average and .717 OPS against him. Harper and Herrera are the only two lefty bats in the Phillies everyday lineup, with Hernandez a switch-hitter.
    Herrera has the most success of any Phillies hitter against ‘Mad Max’, holding a .341 career average with two homers over 41 at-bats against him. Hoskins is 0-11 against Scherzer while Franco has hit just .125 over 24 at-bats against him.
    If he can set aside all of the emotion and focus squarely on the match-up at hand, Harper could be a major key tonight. He brings difference-making power to the Phillies lineup from the left side of the plate, something that the Phillies have clearly lacked in their prior meetings with Scherzer.
    Kapler has used the same starting lineup for the first three games. Might the skipper give McCutchen a rest and start the left-handed bat of Nick WilliamsAndrew Knapp, a switch-hitter, could also bring a lefty-hitting option behind the plate. Realmuto has just an .083 average against Scherzer over 36 career at-bats. But it’s hard to imagine this being the time to give the Phillies new catcher his first rest of the young season.
    McCutchen does indeed have better career numbers against lefties. However, his numbers off right-handed pitchers are not bad at all. Segura actually hits righties better than southpaws. Don’t be surprised if the lineup you saw over the first three games at Citizens Bank Park is the same one that he puts on the field tonight at Nationals Park.
    The Phillies are going to need a solid outing from their own starting pitcher, 24-year-old Zach Eflin, in order to give the offense a chance as it tries to dent Scherzer. Whatever lineup Kapler chooses to run out, finding a way to reach the Nationals ace for a few runs may end up the key to victory for the Phillies.
    Originally published at Phillies Nation as Getting to Max Scherzer will be the key for suddenly powerful Phillies