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The Case for ... Magical Max


IN WHAT will be remembered as a disastrous season for the Nationals, a popular preseason World Series pick that was eliminated from contention with more than a week remaining, there was at least one thing that went right for Washington in 2015: its off-season signing of righty free-agent Max Scherzer. While he went just 14--12 in the first year of his seven-year, $210 million contract, Scherzer set career bests for ERA (2.79) and strikeouts (276) while tying for the National League lead in starts (33) as well as the MLB lead in complete games (four) and shutouts (three). He also topped the league in another category: no-hitters.

With his no-no against the Mets at Citi Field last Saturday, a 2--0 victory, Scherzer became just the sixth man to throw two no-hitters in the same season. This one was even more remarkable than his June 20 gem against the Pirates, which would have been a perfect game if not for a controversial hit by pitch of Jose Tabata with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning.

In fact, this was one of the most dominant performances in major league history. Scherzer struck out 17, with the only base runner reaching on a throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar in the sixth inning. Scherzer's Game Score (a Bill James stat that credits and debits each part of a pitcher's line score to arrive at a single number) was 104, the second highest ever in a nine-inning game, behind only Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout one-hitter for the Cubs in May 1998.

Before Saturday, Scherzer's best start of this season may not have even been his first no-hitter. On June 14, the outing before he blanked Pittsburgh, he struck out 16 Brewers while allowing just one hit and one walk for a Game Score of 100. His Game Score in his first no-hitter was 97. Nine times this season a pitcher had a Game Score of 97 or better. Scherzer had three of those.

The only other pitchers with that many Game Scores of 97 or better in a single season? Walter Johnson (1918) and Nolan Ryan (1990). Both, however, needed extra innings to reach those scores. Scherzer is also the first pitcher on record to compile multiple Game Scores of 100 or better in nine-inning games in a single season. Furthermore, since 1914 (as far back as play-by-play data goes) Scherzer is the first man to pitch two games in the same season in which he allowed neither a hit nor a walk.

Perhaps most amazing, Scherzer took a no-hitter into the sixth inning six times this year, including against the Reds in his penultimate start. (It was broken up with one out in the eighth.) And while Milwaukee and Cincinnati were dreadful this season, the Pirates and the Mets are playoff teams; despite resting five of its eight regulars on Saturday, New York sent starters Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda to the plate in the ninth inning as pinch hitters. Those two, plus Curtis Granderson, meant Scherzer would have to go through the Mets' three best hitters of the season, as measured by Offensive Wins Above Replacement, to complete his brilliant outing. He struck out the first two—giving him nine straight K's—and then got Granderson to pop out.

No-hitters were not rare in 2015, either around the majors—there were seven, tying the MLB record—or at Citi Field, where the Giants' Chris Heston threw one on June 9. Still, Scherzer's performance topped them all, and it will be remembered long after the rest of Washington's season is forgotten.


Pitchers who have thrown two no-hitters in a season


Scherzer's Game Score against the Mets, the second highest ever in a nine-inning game


Consecutive strikeouts from the sixth to the ninth innings, one shy of the MLB record