Mad, Max? Nope. Scherzer convinced he can throw 100 pitches in Game 3
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Imagine a starting pitcher with John Lackey’s intensity, Jake Arrieta’s fitness level, Kyle Hendricks’ pinpoint control and Jon Lester’s durability.
Or just picture Nationals ace Max Scherzer. It’s probably easier.
Are the Cubs really supposed to be able to beat this guy in Game 3 of the NLDS?
We all know Scherzer is one of the great pitchers of his time, but let’s try not to terrify ourselves as we tick off a few of the highlights of his incredible five-year run. He is a five-time All-Star — with starts for both leagues — and is in contention for his third Cy Young award. He has been a league leader in victories three times and has topped the NL in strikeouts in each of the last two seasons.
And when he’s all the way on — the pair of no-hitters in 2015, the 20-strikeout game last season — baseball simply has nothing else like it.
The Cubs can only hope the 33-year-old right-hander isn’t in superhero mode Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. And there’s reason to believe he might not be: the weakness in his right hamstring that media and fans have been obsessing over for a week-plus.
Not having to face Scherzer in Games 1 and, potentially, 5 because of his 11th-hour injury was a huge break. If it turns out he’s unfit to pitch deep into Game 3, the Cubs will have no excuse not to win this series.
One can almost hear Scherzer rolling his eyes at such talk.
“Look, this little ailment, I needed a couple extra days to get it right,” he said Sunday before the Nats’ off-day workout. “I feel I’ve done everything I can to put the strength in the leg that I need to, and I feel like I’m good to go.
“Hey, we’re in the playoffs. Every game is a must-win. This is going to be a crazy atmosphere here at Wrigley. I can’t wait to toe the rubber.”
Yeah, but for how long? The last thing the Nats can afford to do is leave Scherzer out there for one batter too long and have the hamstring flare up and shut him down for the rest of the playoffs. Does Nats manager Dusty Baker — hmm, has he ever overextended a pitcher? — leave Scherzer in the game for 75 pitches? More?
“He’s Max Scherzer,” the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo said, with undeniable accuracy. “He’ll let them know his pitch count.”
Scherzer hasn’t been resting his hammy. Instead, he has been pushing it to its limits in workouts. If you see a guy dressed in a red T-shirt and shorts sprinting through the streets of Wrigleyville Monday morning, don’t expect him to stop and sign an autograph.
“When I get on that mound tomorrow,” he said, “I’m fully anticipating being able to throw 100 pitches.”
It so happens Scherzer has thrown exactly 100 pitches on three occasions this season. Twice, it got him through seven innings. The other time, it got him through all nine. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s close: If Scherzer throws seven or more against you, you’re toast.
Speaking of toast, right-handed hitters walk up to the plate with basically no chance against Scherzer. Think of Hendricks’ movement on his fastball, and now add close to 10 mph. It’s almost as scary as Scherzer’s slider, which is death on righties. Cubs manager Joe Maddon calls it “oppressively difficult,” which is saying pretty much the same thing.
So the Cubs will stack the lineup with lefties as best they can. If only Mark Grace and Billy Williams could be time-machined into the lineup, you know? But even then it would be difficult.
“They always try to squeeze left-handed bats in on Max — always,” Baker said, sounding not the least bit worried.
The Cubs knew Scherzer would be coming, and now here he is. Good luck with that.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.