‘Mad Max’ aims to end bad stretch

Na­tion­als ace Scherzer 0-4 in last 7 play­off ap­pear­ances, will take mound vs. Brewers

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich

WASH­ING­TON — Based on what ev­ery­one says about Na­tion­als righty Max Scherzer, he seems like an ob­vi­ous choice to start the NL wild-card game against the Brewers.

Scherzer is, in the words of Brewers man­ager Craig Coun­sell, “prob­a­bly go­ing to the Hall of Fame.”

Bran­don Woodruff, Coun­sell’s choice to start for the vis­i­tors Tues­day night, couldn’t wait to meet Scherzer at the All-Star Game and ad­mires the three-time Cy Young Award win­ner be­cause he has that “kind of fire in­side of him a lit­tle bit.”

“We’re for­tu­nate,” Na­tion­als man­ager Dave Martinez said, “to have a Max Scherzer pitch in the wild-card game.”

Is it re­ally that clear-cut? Martinez could have, in­stead, gone with Stephen Stras­burg, who, un­like Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA, 27 starts), was healthy all year and put up some of the best num­bers of his ca­reer. Stras­burg and ro­ta­tion-mate Pa­trick Corbin will be avail­able in the bullpen.

There’s also an ele­phant in the room: Scherzer’s post­sea­son sta­tis­tics.

It is un­fash­ion­able these days to even men­tion win-loss records when it comes to pitch­ers, but Scherzer’s teams — the Na­tion­als and, be­fore that, the Tigers — haven’t en­joyed much suc­cess with him on the mound in the play­offs of late.

Since a 2013 AL Divi­sion Se­ries vic­tory for the Tigers against the A’s, Scherzer has made seven post­sea­son ap­pear­ances, in a mix of start­ing and re­liev­ing, and his teams are 0-7. Scherzer him­self is 0-4 in that stretch, low­er­ing his ca­reer record in the post­sea­son from 4-1 to 4-5.

“Sea­son’s on the line. I’ve pitched in these sit­u­a­tions be­fore, and it’s just crazy base­ball. The in­ten­sity’s out of your mind,” said Scherzer, who took the loss in the Na­tion­als’ most re­cent Oc­to­ber flop, com­ing in dur­ing the fifth in­ning of a Game 5 home loss to the Cubs in a 2017 NLDS. “And you’ve got to go out there and be your best and just com­pete as hard as you can.”

The Na­tion­als are 0-3 in win­ner-take-all post­sea­son games, all at home. They’ve never ad­vanced in four pre­vi­ous trips to the play­offs over the last eight years.

The Brewers, in con­trast, made it to a Game 7 of the NCLS just a year ago.

An­other dis­par­ity at play in a game that will de­ter­mine who ad­vances to face the NL West cham­pion Dodgers start­ing Thurs­day: How they try to get 27 outs.

“We’re dif­fer­ent. And I think play­off teams should be dif­fer­ent,” Coun­sell said. “I think that’s cool.”

The Na­tion­als rely heav­ily on their ro­ta­tion, led by Scherzer, Stras­burg and Corbin, who all ranked in the top 10 in the NL in ERA, strike­outs and op­po­nents’ bat­ting av­er­age. Their bullpen’s col­lec­tive ERA, mean­while, was the worst in the ma­jors this sea­son.

That is part of the rea­son Martinez says Stras­burg and Corbin are avail­able in re­lief.

“A game like to­mor­row, you put roles aside, you put egos aside, and you go with your best guys,” closer Sean Doolit­tle said, “and those are our best guys.”

The Brewers, in con­trast, are at the van­guard of the trend around the ma­jors to change pitch­ers early and of­ten.

“For me,” Woodruff said, “I’m look­ing at it, com­ing into to­mor­row, treat­ing it like any other start, where my goal is to fin­ish the game.”

That won’t hap­pen, of course. Woodruff (11-3, 3.62 ERA in 22 starts) has pitched in only two games since re­turn­ing from a strained left oblique that side­lined him for nearly two full months; he went two hit­less in­nings each time. Even if he was healthy, Coun­sell would be quick to get All-Star Josh Hader and the rest of the bullpen in­volved.

Both clubs made a big push to get this far, so maybe it won’t mat­ter to ei­ther side that Mon­day’s planned work­outs at Na­tion­als Park were lim­ited be­cause of rain.

The Na­tion­als closed the reg­u­lar sea­son on their long­est win­ning streak of 2019, eight games, to cap a turn­around that saw them go from 19-31 on May 23 to 93 wins.

The Brewers, mean­while, were in third place in their divi­sion as Au­gust ended and just a cou­ple of games above .500, be­fore us­ing a 21-4 run — de­spite los­ing 2018 NL MVP Chris­tian Yelich to a bro­ken kneecap — to get back to the play­offs.

So Coun­sell, who said he’s not sure yet whether Lorenzo Cain’s in­jured left an­kle will be good enough for him to be out there Tues­day, com­pared what his team faces at Na­tion­als Park to what the last month has been like.

“I don’t think it’s any dif­fer­ent,” Coun­sell said, “than how we’ve treated ev­ery day since Aug. 30.”

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AP

Max Scherzer, above, has strug­gled in the post­sea­son, but Na­tion­als man­ager Dave Martinez says “we’re for­tu­nate to have (Scherzer) pitch in the wild-card game.”

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