Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer takes the mound Tuesday evening to face the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card game. Scherzer has been a dominant force in his five seasons with the Nationals, but he is coming off some uncharacteristic struggles of late.
Scherzer spent a little over three weeks on the injured list due to a back injury suffered in late July. Prior to the injury he had an ERA of 2.41, but since returning on August 22nd, he has an ERA of 4.74 (h/t Joe Osborne). The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin available if Scherzer struggles, but they’ll be hoping he can shake off the recent issues and put together a dominant performance in the one-game playoff.
If they need something with which to inspire Scherzer, an atrocious fantasy football trade offer apparently will do the trick. Washington Post reporter Jesse Dougherty took some time to chat with the many players who have caught Scherzer dating back to college. The best story came from Alex Avila, who was his catcher with the Tigers from 2010 to 2014.
In June that year, Scherzer was starting against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He walked a pair of batters in the first inning, and Avila wanted to chat with him to get his command on track.
So he walked to the mound and offered a fantasy football trade. An intentionally bad one. Scherzer, confused for a moment, got fired up that Avila thought he would accept such a one-sided deal. He yelled a little. Then he threw seven innings to improve to 9-0. “He feeds off that type of adrenaline,” said Avila, whose 107 games with Scherzer are the most of any catcher. “At first, it took him off guard, but he was absolutely into it.”
I have actually played in a fantasy football league with Scherzer (it was for charity with Big League Impact). At the draft he brought a certain quiet intensity, and I could see how he might not respond well to a bad trade offer. I can’t blame him. If you made a joke of an offer to me, I might have a thing or two to say. But given the intensity of Scherzer, I could see it escalating just a little bit.
The Nationals sit as -180 favorites, but DraftKings Sportsbook oddsmaker expect a close game. The Brewers are sitting as -134 favorites on the run line of 1.5. Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff is a wild card in this one. He’s made two starts, pitching two innings in each, since returning from a lengthy absence due to an oblique injury. He had a strong season prior to the injury, but given his limited innings, one has to wonder if it will be a short evening for Woodruff regardless of his performance. If Scherzer struggles on his end, this could end up being a battle of the Brewers bullpen against Strasburg and the Nationals bullpen.