DETROIT -- A little over three weeks away from his 35th birthday, it’s possible Max Scherzer might have just completed the best calendar month of his career.
Scherzer made six June starts, lasted at least seven innings in each of them, allowed two runs or fewer in each of them and struck out at least nine batters in each of them. All together, he finished the month 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts -- remember, this includes a start that came one day after he fouled a ball off his face giving him a black eye and broken nose. Scherzer is only the fourth pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920) with an ERA of 1.00 or lower and 68-plus strikeouts in a month.
The other pitchers to accomplish that feat include:
• Pedro Martinez in September/October 1999 (0.86 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 42 innings).
• Roger Clemens in August 1998 (0.90 ERA, 68 strikeouts in 50 innings)
• Randy Johnson in June 1997 (0.92 ERA, 68 strikeouts in 49 innings)
• Scherzer (1.00 ERA, 68 strikeouts in 45 innings).
“Just in rhythm,” Scherzer said. “Rhythm with my mechanics and have the shape of every offspeed pitch -- all five of 'em, really. To be able to execute them where I want to. Not trying to make mistakes with 'em, execute where I want to and then, when I can sequence, it gives [catcher Kurt Suzuki] the ability to call anything.”
Scherzer, who will almost certainly be named the National League’s Pitcher of the Month, didn’t name any specific stretches where he’s found a better rhythm on the mound, but his month of June stacks up to any individual month of his career.
Scherzer's 1.00 ERA is the second lowest of any calendar month, trailing only the 0.99 ERA he posted in June 2017. Those 68 strikeouts are the most he’s racked up in one month, one more than the 67 he posted in September/October 2015. And the 45 innings Scherzer threw are tied for the most of any month where he made six starts, matching his total from May 2013 (he tossed 50 2/3 innings in September/October 2015, but that was in seven starts). Opponents batted just .156/.196/.256 in 168 plate appearances against Scherzer for an OPS of .453.
Including Scherzer's last two starts in May, he has limited opponents to just six runs in his last 57 innings (0.95 ERA) with 83 strikeouts and eight walks. He’s lowered his ERA from 3.72 to 2.43. These last eight starts are perhaps Scherzer in the best groove of his career.
“It's kind of business as usual at this point,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “I don't mean that as a cliche. He set the bar so high for himself that no matter how the game starts or what his stuff looks like early, he's going to find a way to go seven, eight innings. You look up at the scoreboard maybe one, maybe two runs but 10, 11, 12 strikeouts.”
Suzuki added: “In other people’s eyes, he’s taking it to another level, but we almost really expect it. Like, Max is the best pitcher in baseball. He can turn it up though for sure.”
July isn't looking so bad for Scherzer either, after he just got named to his seventh straight All-Star Game and his wife, Erica, is due with their second daughter early this month.
"It's just chaos," he said with a laugh after Sunday's outing. "The second one on the way and the All-Star game, there won't be much sleep."
Scherzer has already won three Cy Young Awards in his career and finished in the top five in the voting for the award for six consecutive seasons, led the NL in strikeouts the past three seasons and was named to his seventh straight All-Star Game on Sunday. And yet, this is shaping up to be his best season yet.
Scherzer is striking out more batters per nine innings than ever, raising his K/9 rate to 12.51, an improvement on last year when he reached 300 strikeouts for the first time. He has cut down on his walks per nine innings (1.62 -- his lowest since 2015) and home runs per nine innings (0.66 -- career best). Scherzer's 2.09 FIP is the lowest of his career and best in MLB. And as of Monday morning, he led the Majors with 170 strikeouts and 5.0 Wins Above Replacement, also the best in the Majors for pitchers, according to Fangraphs. Scherzer is throwing his fastball, on average, at 95.0 mph, which is a tick harder than at any point in his career.
Even after all the accolades in his career, Scherzer pores over details in his game during the offseason, searching for ways to continue to get better every year. And against all odds, he keeps finding ways to raise his game.
“I’m just glad I’m on his side and not watching from the other side, because when he pitches, it’s really really tremendous," manager Dave Martinez said.