It’s obviously not what Max Scherzer or Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy wanted.
After not pitching competitively for more than a month due to a muscle injury near his shoulder, the 39-year-old Scherzer took the ball in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Globe Life Field and threw a perfect first inning on eight pitches.
He wasn’t so perfect after that.
Scherzer, who last pitched in a big-league game on Sept. 12 and finished the regular season on the disabled list with a teres major strain, lasted four innings Wednesday. He allowed three runs in the second and one each in the third and fourth before exiting.
In the 8-5 loss, Scherzer was charged with five runs on five hits, a walk, a wild pitch and a hit batter. He struck out four and allowed a solo home run to Jose Altuve.
Scherzer’s control was there for the most part – he threw 42 of his 63 pitches for strikes – although he spiked a slider with the bases loaded in the second inning that cost him a run. His fastball velocity, which averaged 93.9 this season, was normal and maybe even a tick up, with several four-seamers clocked at 95 mph. But his command was spotty, and he missed with several offerings up and over the middle of the plate.
Scherzer looked rusty and, consequently, a little frustrated. One of baseball’s most intense competitors, Scherzer’s uneven performance led to the Rangers’ first loss this postseason. It snapped a seven-game winning streak, tied for second longest to begin the playoffs in the division era (since 1969).
In his last two playoff appearances – Wednesday against the Astros and in the 2022 NL Wild Card Series versus the San Diego Padres – Scherzer has given up 12 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings. His playoff ERA is now 3.79 in 137 1/3 innings.
So, does Bochy do this again? Does he wheel Scherzer back out for a potential Game 7 of the ALCS or a World Series start?
Absolutely. He must.
Jordan Montgomery and Nate Eovaldi have been fantastic this postseason, and the combination of Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning can hold its own, but the Rangers need another starter to step up as the playoffs continue.
This is why Texas traded for Scherzer, who has made 28 appearances and 23 starts in his postseason career.
Nobody works harder. Nobody takes his job more seriously. And, frankly, there’s not a better option for the Rangers as a third starter. So, after a sub-optimal performance, the expectation is that Mad Max will be better his second start back, whenever that comes.
0-2 hole will be too much for Arizona Diamondbacks
If you follow baseball closely, you’ve learned to expect the unexpected.
When a team goes down 0-2 in a best-of-seven playoff series, the difficulty increases exponentially. Still, with baseball, it would be foolish to proclaim the series as over. That 0-2 scenario has happened 89 times in MLB history heading into this year, and in 75 instances the teams with the early leads have won the series – an 84 percent conversion rate.
Yet, 14 clubs have come back from an 0-2 hole, so the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Houston Astros have a mathematical and historical chance.
I’m just not sure I can endorse the unexpected here, particularly with the Diamondbacks.
The Philadelphia Phillies are running on all cylinders, offensively, defensively and on the mound. And they’ve beaten Arizona’s two aces, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, who combined to allow nine runs and six homers in 10 2/3 innings in the first two games of the NLCS.
On Thursday, rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt takes the mound against a Phillies lineup that has hit 19 homers in eight games. Pfaadt, who had a 5.72 ERA in 19 regular-season appearances, gave up 22 homers in 96 innings this year.
Pfaadt has served up only one longball in seven postseason innings, but I don’t love his chances Thursday against lefties such as Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Additionally, Pfaadt will be opposite Ranger Suárez, who has allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings this postseason.
The Phillies also have 15-game winner Taijuan Walker, who is waiting for his 2023 postseason chance, likely ready for Game 4. He hasn’t pitched in the playoffs since making a disastrous, one-inning start for the Diamondbacks in the 2017 NLDS versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. So, you know he’ll be pumped for another playoff opportunity.
The Diamondbacks were solid at home in 2023 (43-38), and the Phillies were slightly over .500 on the road (41-40), so maybe something gives there.
But I don’t see it. The Phillies are on a tremendous roll. I’d be surprised if this series goes back to Philly.
Kim Ng’s Marlins departure surprising – in a sense
Count me among those that were surprised by the news this week that Miami Marlins’ general manager Kim Ng had declined her mutual option and left her post.
Ng, who was the first female GM in any of the four major North American sports when she was hired in 2020 and remains one of the most respected people in the game, reportedly wasn’t enthused with the idea that Marlins owner Bruce Sherman wanted to hire a president to serve above her. And who could blame her after she assembled a club that made the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2003?
But there are only 30 GM jobs available in Major League Baseball and Ng, 54, waited so long to be hired that walking away from another option year appears risky. Regardless, it earns her even more respect in the business. She did what was right when squeezed by ownership. She bet on herself. And she’ll rebound quickly. Ng getting another job – and perhaps a better one – won’t be surprising at all.
The rust vs. rest debate
Much has been made about the three, 100-win teams in the 2023 regular season going 1-9 in the second round of the playoffs after receiving a bye in the first round. There’s a solid possibility this year’s World Series will pit two wild card teams against each other, ones that had little rest after the season ended.
Clearly, in this postseason, it looks like rust was created with five full days of rest.
My take here is threefold:
First, anything can happen in baseball’s postseason, so I’m not going to place the results completely at the feet of the five-days-off schedule. However, in an everyday sport played from late February (spring training games) to the beginning of October, there’s no such thing as a five-day break until a team “earns” that right to get kicked off their routine in the postseason. A club can’t truly simulate game action no matter how much it tries. So, some rest is welcomed, but too much rest likely isn’t.
Secondly, this whole situation was created because MLB wanted more playoff games and, subsequently, more revenue. And you know what? I like it. I love postseason baseball, and having more games isn’t a bad thing in my mind.
Third, if MLB really wants to reward four of the division winners – and there should be some advantage for them – how about eliminating the wild cards’ two rest days? When the season ends on a Sunday, the wild cards should get on a plane and play the next day. Monday, for Game 1 of Round 1. Game 2 would be Tuesday and Game 3, if necessary, Wednesday. Then Game 1 of the ALDS begins Thursday at all venues.
That way, the division winners get three days off, not five, and the wild cards play four straight postseason games after the season ends, unless they can win the first two and can use Wednesday as a travel and rest day. May not be perfect, but if the schedule must change, that seems like an obvious tweak.
Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.