WASHINGTON -- In some ways, the goal Nationals ace Max Scherzer sets for himself every year is simple. It is simultaneously nearly insurmountable.Each year, Scherzer hones in on a way to get better. It remained his goal at the start of the 2018 season, even at the age of 34,
WASHINGTON -- In some ways, the goal Nationals ace Max Scherzer sets for himself every year is simple. It is simultaneously nearly insurmountable.
Each year, Scherzer hones in on a way to get better. It remained his goal at the start of the 2018 season, even at the age of 34, and coming off winning back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards. Most impressively, Scherzer found a way to do so, reaching the 300-strikeout mark for the first time in his career and appearing even more dominant in 2018.
Scherzer's bid for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award fell short, however, with a runner-up finish behind Mets ace Jacob deGrom and his record-setting ERA as the winners in both leagues were revealed on Wednesday night on MLB Network. Scherzer received one first-place vote, while deGrom was a near unanimous winner with 29.
:: NL Cy Young Award voting totals ::
Although this season did not end with more hardware, it should not take away from Scherzer's impressive campaign. He led all NL pitchers in strikeouts (300), strikeouts per nine innings (12.24), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.88), WHIP (0.91) and innings (220 2/3). The right-hander also became just the fifth pitcher since 2001 to strike out 300 in a season, a number reserved for the most elite starters even as strikeout totals spike around the game.
"This was the best season of my career," Scherzer said before the final day of the regular season. "I accomplished my goal of getting better. Really, I think the biggest thing I'm happy about is the consistency from start to start, keeping the team in the ballgame no matter the situation, and pitching deep in games to help save the bullpen. Those are things you take pride in, when you pitch deep in ballgames and throw 220 innings. That's helping a team out in a lot of different ways."
The Nationals have been spoiled by Scherzer's greatness since signing him prior to the 2015 season. He has finished in the top five in the NL Cy Young Award voting in each of his four seasons in D.C., posting a 2.71 ERA and a 2.89 FIP, with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings, all while averaging 33 starts and 220 innings pitched per year, making him a reliable option every fifth day.
That consistency is what Scherzer was most proud of on Wednesday night as he spoke to MLB Network via FaceTime while vacationing in the Bahamas. Scherzer will turn 35 next summer, and perhaps eventually he will succumb to the perils of age.
Scherzer has avoided them in part because of his relentless approach to improvement. Constantly tinkering, sometimes between or during starts, but especially from year to year, Scherzer was already at work during that final day of the regular season thinking about what his offseason project might be.
"I have ideas what it is, but keep critiquing myself and keep finding every little chink in my armor to find new ways to get guys out," Scherzer said. "The game, it's changing as the years keep going. You're seeing different swing paths, you're seeing different approaches. And you've got to do everything you can to stay ahead of that, and really pay attention to other guys on the staff, other guys in the league of what it's going to take to continue to pitch at a high level.
"For me, I'll be very focused on that. I'll be in my normal offseason program, completely healthy. I look forward to doing what it takes to be ready for 2019."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.