Nationals starter Max Scherzer was named to the National League all-star team Monday, selected by the players’ vote. The right-hander was a virtual lock, as much of a foregone conclusion as can be with things like these. Few pitchers can match a first-half resume that includes a no-hitter, a 16-strikeout shutout and back-to-back National League pitcher of the month awards. Scherzer has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball this season and was recognized as such with his third all-star selection and first as a National Leaguer.
“It’s awesome. It’s one of the highest honors in the game to be selected for the All-Star Game,” Scherzer said. “This is my third game, and every single one of them means something special.”
Steadily stingy and reliably unrelenting this season, perhaps the only big surprise Scherzer has provided is the chocolate syrup he chose over more traditional celebratory substances one night in Atlanta. Other than that, the 30-year-old has met expectations, lofty though they were when he signed for $210 million this offseason. His 1.82 ERA is second-best among big league starters. He is tied for the second-most innings pitched in the majors and is holding hitters to a .181 average, lowest in baseball. His 139 strikeouts are third-most. No one has more strikeouts since 2012 than Scherzer, who is 15 ahead of Clayton Kershaw as of Monday night.
“I gotta go out and continue to pitch and finish this season. We’re only at the halfway point,” Scherzer said. “But I do feel like I’m a better pitcher than I was last year. I feel like I’m able to do more things. I feel like my pitches are more consistent.”
Lately, dominance has been anticipated when Scherzer pitches, no-hitters always feel within reach, complete games are almost expected. In his last four starts he has gotten all but five of a possible 108 outs, allowed four runs in 34 2/3 innings, struck out 32 and walked one. That stretch earned him pitcher of the month honors in June, making him the first pitcher to win the award in back-to-back months since Kershaw last summer.
Bryce Harper is the other Nationals player currently on the all-star team, named a starter after setting the National League voting record. Scherzer has a strong case to start the game, too, though circumstances may not allow it. NL Manager Bruce Bochy will announce his starter next week before the game. He will choose from other candidates, including Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke, who leads major league starters with a 1.42 ERA, and his own world series hero Madison Bumgarner, who is having a strong season despite the Nationals knocking him for five runs Saturday.
Scherzer may not be available to pitch in the game at all. As currently scheduled, he is on turn to pitch Tuesday night against the Reds. If the Nationals stay in an every-fifth-day rotation, Scherzer would pitch again Sunday in Baltimore, the day before the all-star break. Major league rules prohibit starters who pitch the day before the all-star break from pitching in the game on Tuesday. If he were unavailable to pitch in the game, Scherzer would still be honored as an all-star, but his spot on the roster would go to another player.
Nationals Manager Matt Williams would not outline his rotation past the next three games against the Reds, in which Doug Fister, Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez are scheduled to start. The Nationals could feasibly skip Scherzer, who has not missed a start and worked deep into games this season. Scherzer would not discuss his feelings about starting the game or being unable to pitch because of his schedule.
“I’ll talk about that when we cross that road,” said Scherzer, who asked the Nationals PR staff if a plan had been announced yet before being told the team was officially “not sure,” an indication that a tentative decision may have been made already about whether the Nationals would position Scherzer to be able to participate in the game or not.
“Our process is that we want to win baseball games,” Williams said. “So we’ll see how he comes out of [Tuesday], where it’s at, what we can do going forward given the off day. Like we talked about, there’s a lot of factors there. By the off day, we’ll have a determination made.”
Scherzer was not the only other National with a strong case for all-star honors. Denard Span’s .305 average is the second-highest among major league center fielders and his .369 on-base percentage ranks fifth, but injuries mean he has played significantly fewer games than other candidates. Yunel Escobar’s .314 average leads major league third baseman, but he does not have the power numbers, RBI or defensive ratings of other National League candidates.
Closer Drew Storen had the best case besides Harper and Scherzer. His 25 saves are the second-most in the majors, and if it weren’t for one three-run homer allowed in a blowout in Tampa, his ERA would rank in the top 15 among relievers. He is allowing fewer than one base runner and striking out more than a batter an inning.
Storen still may find his way onto the team, as pitchers like Scherzer may be removed from the roster because of their starting schedule. Last-minute injuries could also clear spots. Williams hopes Storen ends up there somehow.
“I think Drew’s had a fantastic first half. He’s leading baseball in one-run saves, and that says something. That says something about his capabilities when he steps in there in the ninth inning,” Williams said. “The unfortunate part about the all-star game every year is that there are only a certain number of guys that can go. But you never know. There are more games to play before then, and who knows what may happen, but I’ll officially say I think he’s had a fantastic first part of the season and if there’s an opportunity, I’d like to see him go.”
For now, Scherzer and Harper will represent the Nationals next week in Cincinnati. No surprise there.
NATIONAL LEAGUE RESERVES:
C Yadier Molina, Cardinals
C Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
1B Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
2B DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
2B Joe Panik, Giants
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies
3B Kris Bryant, Cubs
OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
OF Joc Pederson, Dodgers
OF Justin Upton, Padres
OF A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
RHP Max Scherzer, Nationals
RHP Zack Greinke, Dodgers
RHP Gerrit Cole, Pirates
RHP Michael Wacha, Cardinals
RHP Jacob DeGrom, Mets
RHP Shelby Miller, Braves
RHP A.J. Burnett, Pirates
LHP Madison Bumgarner, Giants
RHP Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
RHP Mark Melancon, Pirates
RHP Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
RHP Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
LHP Aroldis Chapman, Reds
NL Final Vote Candidates:
RHP Johnny Cueto, Reds
RHP Jeurys Familia, Mets
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
RHP Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies