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Today's Hit and Run is all about the pitching, as Jay Jaffe breaks down Max Scherzer's historic start against the Brewers and takes a look at Chris Sale's record-setting strikeout streak.

By Jay Jaffe
June 15, 2015

1. Scherzer to the max

In a season full of great pitching performances—including Chris Heston's no-hitter just last Tuesday—Max Scherzer authored one of the best on Sunday. Scherzer took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Brewers, and while it was broken up by Carlos Gomez's broken-bat bloop single, the Nationals' ace not only set a team record with 16 strikeouts, but he also posted the majors’ highest Game Score—the Bill James formula that credits and debits various outcomes in a pitcher's line score for comparative purposes, with 50 being average—in nearly a year.

Leading off the seventh, Gomez's bloop just evaded the reach of second baseman Anthony Rendon in shallow right-centerfield. After the game, the Brewers' centerfielder sounded a somewhat sheepish note with regards to the hit. Via Fox Sports Wisconsin's Andrew Gruman:

"I got lucky, I got lucky," Gomez said. "I'm happy because I hit it (enough) but not really, because when a guy has a game like that … and stuff like that, I mean, I don't enjoy it. I would enjoy it if I hit a real base hit, because he dealt, he pitched unbelievable. He's one of the best pitchers and probably the best pitcher that I've ever faced.

"He pitched a really good game today, and I can say I don't enjoy that base hit in the seventh. Because a game like that, if you hit it hard, it's different."

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In completing just the second shutout of his career, Scherzer allowed only one other base runner, walking Scooter Gennett in the eighth inning. Even with those minor imperfections to his day, Scherzer's Game Score of 100 was the highest in the majors since Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter just under a year ago (last June 18), outdoing Heston's 98 (no hits and no walks but "only" 11 strikeouts). Note that while Game Score debits a pitcher two points for each hit and one for each walk, it doesn't do so for a hit-by-pitch (of which Heston had three, a record for a no-hitter). That's because it was introduced as a quick way of summarizing a pitcher's basic stat line at a time when HBP info wasn't readily available.

Scherzer's triple-digit game score put him in select company: Since 1969, eight pitchers have recorded a total of just 10 such nine-inning games, two of which were perfect games and three more of which were no-hitters. The nine-inning caveat is important, since pitchers earn two points for each additional inning pitched beyond the fourth and an additional point for each out recorded. Of the 21 Game Scores of 100 or more since the start of the '69 season, 11 of them are of at least 10 innings, with four of them going at least 13. The high for the period—109, by the Padres' Clay Kirby on Sept. 24, 1971—came in a 15-inning epic. Keeping it at nine innings, here's that top 10, all of which were shutouts:

pitcher date team-opp h bb so gsc
Kerry Wood 5/6/1998 Cubs-Astros 1 0 20 105
Clayton Kershaw 6/18/2014 Dodgers-Rockies 0 0 15 102
Matt Cain 6/13/2012 Giants-Astros 0 0 14 101
Nolan Ryan 5/1/1991 Rangers-Blue Jays 0 2 16 101
Max Scherzer 6/14/2015 Nationals-Brewers 1 1 16 100
Brandon Morrow 8/8/2010 Blue Jays-Rays 1 2 17 100
Randy Johnson 5/18/2004 D-backs-Braves 0 0 13 100
Curt Schilling 4/7/2002 D-backs-Brewers 1 2 17 100
Nolan Ryan 7/15/1973 Angels-Tigers 0 4 17 100
Nolan Ryan 7/9/1972 Angels-Red Sox 1 1 16 100

Cain and Johnson both made the list via perfect games, while Ryan did so via his first and seventh no-hitters. Kershaw fell short of perfection only because of Hanley Ramirez's throwing error. The rest are one-hitters, including the second of Ryan’s 12.

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On a team level, Scherzer’s 16 strikeouts surpassed the 14 of Stephen Strasburg in his major league debut on June 8, 2010, and his 100 Game Score topped the 96 from Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter last Sept. 28 against the Marlins (he struck out 10 and walked one). Including the franchise’s time in Montreal, the record for strikeouts is 18 by Bill Gullickson on Sept. 10, 1980 against the Cubs; for Game Score, the number to beat was 98 by Bill Stoneman via a one-hit, one-walk, 14-K outing against the Padres on June 16, 1971.

On an individual level, Scherzer outdid his previous best Game Score, an 88 set over eight shutout innings, with three hits, two walks and 14 strikeouts for the Tigers against the Pirates last Aug. 14. The Pirates were also the victims of his previous career high in strikeouts, a 15-K performance back on May 20, 2012.

At 33–30, the Nationals are lagging half a game behind the Mets in the National League East race, and they're two games out of the second Wild Card spot, but one can't fault the 30-year-old Scherzer. The righty's 1.93 ERA is third in the league, his 10.9 strikeouts per nine ranks second and his 2.01 FIP, 113 strikeouts and 3.6 WAR are all first. His won-loss record, however, is just 7–5 because he's received a pedestrian 3.8 runs per game of support, the lowest of any starter on a team whose 4.32 runs per game rank fourth in the league.

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2. Sale by the dozens

Scherzer's dominant outing wasn't the only pitching performance of note on Sunday. The White Sox' Chris Sale whiffed 12 Rays over 6 2/3 innings at the Tropicana Dome, and though it came in a 2–1 loss, it marked his fifth straight start with at least 10 strikeouts and his fourth straight with at least 12. The latter is the longest streak since May 2001, when Pedro Martinez did it; in fact, Martinez and fellow Hall of Fame class of 2015 inductee Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers with streaks longer than three games:

pitcher team start end games
Pedro Martinez Red Sox 9/4/1999 9/27/1999 5
Randy Johnson Mariners 6/19/1998 7/11/1998 5
Chris Sale White Sox 5/28/2015 6/14/2015 4
Pedro Martinez Red Sox 5/12/2001 5/30/2001 4
Pedro Martinez Expos 6/3/1997 6/20/1997 4

There have been 13 streaks of three straight games with 12 strikeouts: four by Johnson (1992, '99, 2000 and '01), three by Sandy Koufax (all in '65, the year he set a major league record with 382 strikeouts) and two apiece by Ryan ('73, the year he topped Koufax with 383 strikeouts, and '77) and Martinez ('97 and '99), with Bob Gibson ('65) and Schilling ('98) rounding out the roster. Koufax's first stretch in '65, from May 13 to May 22, is the earliest on record. Given the rising tide of strikeouts over the past decade, it rates as a surprise that Sale is the only active pitcher to join such select company.​

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As for this year's leader board in double-digit strikeout games, Sale (six) edged ahead of Scherzer and Kershaw (five apiece); Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Chris Archer all have four. More impressively, the 26-year-old southpaw’s streak of five straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts is not only the longest in the majors this year (Archer is the only other pitcher to do it three straight times), but it also matches runs by David Price (June 4–25, 2014) and Johan Santana (June 20–July 11, 2004) as the longest since a six-start run by Johnson from July 31 to Aug. 25, 2002. The record is eight straight by Martinez in '99—he had a seven-start streak earlier that season—and both Ryan ('77) and Johnson ('01) had seven start streaks as well. Each of that trio also had at least one six-start streak, with Johnson doing so four times.

As for Sale, since being rocked for a 5.93 ERA over his first five starts, he’s pitched to a 1.52 mark with 13.3 strikeouts per nine in the seven starts since, holding batters to an absurd .146/.197/.249 line in the process. His 11.7 strikeouts per nine overall leads the AL, but even so, the new-look White Sox are just 28–33, last in the AL Central and seven games behind the division-leading Royals. Even with Sale’s good work, the White Sox are second-to-last in the league in run prevention (4.49 per game), ahead of only the Red Sox (4.80 per game).

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