Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer kept his historic winning streak alive with a dominant performance on Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, bringing his season record to 13-0 with two more starts scheduled before the All-Star break.
In Wednesday's outing, he threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits, two earned runs and one walk, as well as striking out eight, to earn the victory.
Scherzer is now just two wins shy of tying the Baltimore Orioles' Dave McNally for the all-time best season start without a loss (15-0 in 1969). Roger Clemens was the last pitcher to start a season 13-0, when he did it in 1986 for the Boston Red Sox, en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award and MVP. He would run his mark to 14-0 before suffering his first loss.
Given the love that a large section of the BBWAA still has for wins and losses, Scherzer is probably the odds-on-favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award right now. While his season has been very impressive, it is not strictly—or at all—because of the win-loss record.
What makes Scherzer so good are his notable statistics across the board. He is averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, has an ERA around 3.00 and is commanding his pitches better than ever before, as evidenced by his career-low walk rate of 2.0 per nine innings.
But with history in the making, it begs the question: Just how high can Scherzer climb, and what obstacles might stand in his way?
Slate of opponents
|DATE, TEAM||OFFENSIVE RANK|
|July 8 at Cleveland||407 runs scored (5th)|
|July 13 vs. Texas||359 runs scored (13th)|
|July 20 at Kansas City||324 runs scored (23th)|
|July 25 at Chicago White Sox||305 runs scored (29th)|
|July 31 vs. Washington||306 runs scored (28th)|
That is not exactly a murderers' row of offensive firepower.
Cleveland has the best offense in the group, and it isn't particularly close. But as good as the Indians have been this season, consistency and putting the bat on the ball are not their strong suits. They are one of just three AL teams to have struck out at least 700 times this season.
One thing that does work to Cleveland's advantage is familiarity, as well as a deep lineup. The Indians and Tigers have already played eight times this season. Scherzer has started twice against the Tribe, allowing five runs on seven hits and one walk with 14 strikeouts in 16 innings.
When it comes to scoring runs, Texas hasn't been as prolific this season as it usually is, though the lineup is deep and does rank sixth in home runs with 97. The Rangers are capable of driving the ball out, even against a pitcher like Scherzer.
An interesting thing that works against Scherzer facing Texas and Washington is the difference in performance at home and on the road. He has a 4.01 ERA at Comerica Park compared to 2.16 on the road.
But it is a good thing for Scherzer that the Rangers game is in Detroit and not the bandbox in Arlington. Not that he is having issues keeping the ball in the park, as opponents have hit just 11 home runs off him in 116.2 innings after Wednesday night.
As for Kansas City, Chicago and Washington, unless Scherzer has a complete meltdown, it is hard to see him losing one of those games. The Royals and White Sox are incapable of stringing together a rally to save their lives, while the Nationals have proven that without Bryce Harper, they just aren't going to score runs.
Which team has the best chance to defeat Max Scherzer?
So, given that slate of opponents, Cleveland would appear to have the best chance to end the undefeated streak. Of course, there will always be a no-decision or two mixed in, but if Scherzer gets through July 8 unscathed, odds are he will make it to August undefeated.
The burden of rest
Often when a pitcher is throwing well, especially when he has a no-hitter or is racking up a lot of strikeouts, you will hear him talk about how he was able to stay in rhythm both mentally and mechanically.
Scherzer doesn't have the luxury of staying on a normal schedule much longer because the All-Star break is coming up in less than two weeks. After his start against Texas on July 13, he won't start a game that actually counts until July 20 (again, we're estimating these starts).
It should be noted that Scherzer will certainly be an All-Star—he may even start the game for the American League—so he can get normal work and stay on a relatively normal schedule.
But if Scherzer starts to feel his rhythm is off because of the extra rest or that he's not getting the usual work in between starts, that could make him vulnerable against Kansas City.
The start against the Royals will be one to keep an eye on, but if he gets through it successfully, it sets him up well against Chicago and Washington.
Beyond the wins
Scherzer's winning streak certainly makes for a great talking point, but hopefully the real story of his success comes through.
Wins and losses for pitchers have changed so much over the years with bullpens and micromanaging that they don't really tell the story of how someone is pitching. Scherzer, for instance, has not been perfect this season.
The Tigers have lost three games Scherzer started this season. In two of them, he pitched well enough to win, but the offense couldn't get a run on the board before he left a game in Oakland, and Jose Valverde had one of his patented implosions against Baltimore.
Scherzer's worst start of the season ironically came against the Houston Astros, one of the worst teams in baseball. He gave up five runs (including two home runs) in seven innings of work.
What makes Scherzer so impressive as a pitcher is not winning games; it is the way he has changed his repertoire and gone from being a thrower to pitching. According to FanGraphs' various pitching stats, Scherzer is throwing the changeup more and to greater effect than he ever has.
There was a time when he would just try to blow everyone away, but now, he has a specific plan of attack and is executing it.
A 13-0 record does something to illustrate how much better Scherzer has gotten as a pitcher, but it is a small reflection and not the whole piece of the pie.
Moving into the future
Considering how he has been able to avoid a loss this deep into the season, it is safe to say that Scherzer could get all the breaks he needs to become the standard by which all other pitchers in the AL are measured in 2013. He'll surely do that if he stays consistent over his next five or so starts.
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