Scherzer & Sanchez Were Postseason Pitching Stars Twice

ALSO: A STRONG REBUKE TO SELECTIONS OF AWARDS FINALISTS

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Vlad Guerrero, Jr. tied Salvador Perez for the major-league lead with 48 home runs in 2021, more than his Hall of Fame father ever hit in a season. He also led the AL in on-base percentage (.401) and slugging (.601) and the majors in runs scored (123) and total bases (363). But he probably won’t win the MVP award . . .

Both New York teams want Starling Marte as their center-fielder next season . . .

Washington wants free agent Kyle Schwarber back in its lineup as protection for Juan Soto . . .

Outfielder Selya Suzuki, 27, is not related to Ichiro but would still make an intriguing import from Japan . . .

Andruw Jones was enshrined in the Braves Hall of Fame in 2017 but has yet to have his No. 25 retired by the team.

Leading Off

Scherzer and Sanchez: A Pair of Historic Performances

By Andrew Sharp

The traditional role of starting pitchers is the subject of growing debate. This year’s playoffs added fuel to the fire. Yet it hasn’t been that long since a pair of starters turned in back-to-back performances in the post-season that hadn’t been done before and then, six years later, did it again.

Twice in MLB playoff  history, a team has had two of its pitchers carry no-hitters into the sixth innings or later in back-to-back games. The two teams were different – the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and the Washington Nationals in 2019 – but the two pitchers were the same: Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, a free agent this off-season, won his first Cy Young Award in 2013, winning 21 games with a 2.90 earned run average and a league-leading 0.970 WHIP. Sanchez won 14 games and led the league with a 2.57 ERA.

Tigers ace Justin Verlander had started and beaten the A’s in Game 5 of the division series, so Sanchez started the first game of the A.L. championship series against the Red Sox in Boston on Saturday night, Oct. 12, facing John Lester.

 Detroit scratched out a run with a walk, a hit-batsman and a two-out single off Lester in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, Sanchez surrendered a one-out walk and threw a wild-pitch before striking out David Ortiz. Two more walks loaded the bases before the Venezuelan righty struck out Stephen Drew on his 116th pitch.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland figured Sanchez had given it all he could. He left with his no-hitter and the lead intact, but he had walked six.

The bullpen took over in the seventh. Daniel Nava’s one-out single in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit was all the Sox could muster as the Tigers won, 1-0.

Scherzer’s steller performance came in Sunday night’s game, but the Tigers weren’t able to capitalize. Detroit scored four in the top of the sixth to give Max a 5-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, he lost the no-hitter when he gave up a two-out, line-drive, single to Shane Victorino, followed by Dustin Pedroia’s RBI double. Scherzer struck out Ortiz to end the inning. Max retired the Red Sox 1-2-3, in the seventh, fanning his 12th and 13th batters. He left with a 5-1 lead.

This time, Detroit’s bullpen failed miserably. Five pitchers, three of whom had pitched the day before, each gave a run, recording just three outs before the Red Sox won in walk-off fashion with nobody out in the ninth, 6-5. Despite seven innings of two-hit ball and 13 strikeouts, Scherzer got a no-decision. The Red Sox advanced to the World Series by beating the Tigers four games to two, beating Sanchez and Scherer in their next starts.

The efforts of Sanchez and Scherzer proved more fruitful in 2019. While missing time with an injury, Scherzer won 11 games with a sub-3.00 ERA and fanned an amazing 243 batters in 172.1 innings. After losing his first six decisions, Sanchez went 11-2.

The Nats had beaten Milwaukee in dramatic fashion in the wild-card game before facing the Dodgers, the team with the N.L.’s best record. The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles. Sanchez started Game 3 in D.C. and left with a 2-1 lead after five, the only Dodger run coming on a two-out homer in the fifth by Max Muncy. But Patrick Corbin imploded in the sixth, with Los Angeles scoring seven runs in the inning on the way to a 10-4 win.   

Scherzer kept the Nats alive, giving up one run over seven innings in a 6-1 victory in D.C. Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 sent Washington on to the Division Series.

Sanchez got the call to start the League Championship Series against the Cardinals on Friday night, Oct. 11, so Scherzer could start Game 2 on longer rest. As he had been in 2013, Sanchez was masterful. In the fourth, a walk, a bad throw on a steal put a runner at third with two out, but Sanchez got Marcell Ozuna to pop out in foul territory. In the sixth, with the Nationals clinging to a 1-0 lead, he hit a batter but after a steal and groundout, he stranded that runner at third.

His teammates gave Sanchez a tiny bit of breathing room by scoring a run off the Cards’ bullpen in the seventh. Anibal set the Cardinals down in the bottom of the inning. On his 103rd pitch with two outs in the eighth, he gave up a line single to pinch-hitter Jose Martinez. Manager Dave Martinez brought in Sean Doolittle for a four-out save. The Cards got nothing else and lost, 2-0.

The next afternoon, Scherzer did his best to top that. He no-hit the Cardinals through six, striking out 10, before Paul Goldschmidt lined a single on an 0-2 pitch leading off the seventh. Scherzer then fanned Ozuna and got Yadier Molina to hit in a double-play grounder to short. His night ended after 101 pitches.

Adam Eaton’s double gave the Nats a 2-0 lead in the top of the eighth. Doolittle was called on again in the bottom of the inning. After one-out single, pinch -hitter Jose Martinez came through once more. His RBI double made it 3-1. But Corbin and Daniel Hudson retired the Cards in order in the ninth to seal the victory for Scherzer.

Stephen Strasburg and Corbin started the third and fourth games in D.C. as the Nationals completed the sweep with 8-1 and 10-4 wins. So it was on to Houston, where seven games later there was a Washington World Series celebration.

Andrew Sharp writes for SABR’s BioProject and Games Project and blogs about the Nationals and Senators I and II on his website washingtonbaseballhistory.com

Cleaning Up

Who Made Those Awful Picks For Awards Finalists?

By Dan Schlossberg

Now I’m mad.

It’s one thing when my team, the Atlanta Braves, doesn’t win a pennant since 1999 or a world championship since 1995 – or blows a lead of three games to one in its first Championship Series in 10 years.

But this year was different. The Braves, forging a miracle in-season comeback to rival the 1914 Boston Braves, not only won their fourth straight division title by a healthy margin but also rolled over the pitching-rich Milwaukee Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, followed by the hard-hitting Houston Astros, to win it all.

Whomever put together the list of finalists for 2021 awards apparently wasn’t paying attention.

The three players chosen as potential Most Valuable Players just weren’t that valuable. Fernando Tatis, Jr. faded after a fast start, Bryce Harper went 0-for-the-series when his Phillies faced the Braves in a final-week showdown series, and Juan Soto couldn’t prevent his ballclub from settling near the cellar of the National League East.

At least four Braves were better than that trio. Last year’s MVP, Freddie Freeman, led the league in runs scored. Adam Duvall returned in midseason and wound up with the most runs batted in. Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies ranked right behind Duvall in RBI and added sterling defense in an infield that got more than 25 home runs from each member.

The same problems exist with the National League’s Cy Young Award nominees, other than Max Scherzer. Whatever happened to his cohorts in Los Angeles, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias, the lone 20-game winner in the major leagues?

Like Harper, Wheeler folded when the pressure was greatest – against Atlanta during the final week – and led the league in innings pitched only because the Phillies realized that a weakening Wheeler was better than the best arm in their beleaguered bullpen. He led the NL in strikeouts mainly because he worked the most innings and therefore had the most opportunity.

Corbin Burnes, a control artist, may have led the majors in ERA but teammate Josh Hader, the almost-flawless lefthanded closer, would have been a better choice for the choice award. So would Adam Wainwright or Max Fried, both of whom forged fantastic finishes.

But the main pain in these selections is the NL Manager of the Year category. Mike Shildt? Are you kidding me? The Cardinals liked him so much he got fired before the World Series ended. So what if his team won 17 games in a row? It occupied a weak division and barely squeaked into the wild-card game, which it lost.

Nor is Craig Counsell award-worthy. MLB.com notes that his team won its fourth straight division title. As Archie Bunker would say, “Whoop-tee-do!” Brian Snitker’s Braves also won their fourth straight and had to overcome more major injuries than any team in baseball.

No argument with Gabe Kapler, though his Giants wouldn’t have outlasted the Dodgers without Kris Bryant’s arrival in a deadline day trade.

At least the American League picks were more reasonable, and it was good to see Seattle’s Scott Servais, who performed a great service to Seattle, as one of three finalists for Manager of the Year.

No quarrel with the trio of MVP picks either, though Marcus Semien doesn’t have a prayer against two-way star Shohei Ohtani or Toronto wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a baseball writer, columnist, author, and speaker who has written 38 books on the game. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Washington’s Juan Soto had a .525 on-base percentage after the All-Star Game . . .

Fernando Tatis, Jr. of the San Diego Padres just missed becoming the first National Leaguer since Chuck Klein in 1932 to lead the league in home runs and stolen bases . .

White Sox stars Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon, Lugas Giolito, and Dylan Cease averaged almost 200 strikeouts apiece during the 2021 campaign . . .

With Buster Posey retired, the Giants are doubly determined to prevent Brandon Belt from leaving via free agency . . .

The Cleveland Indians changed their name to Guardians in embarrassment after finishing on the wrong end of three no-hitters in 2021.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.