September 25, 2017

As excited as we tend to get for hotshot rookies and long-shot underdogs, there’s something to be said for sustained excellence.

When the Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract after the 2014 season, it marked (at the time) the second-biggest contract ever given to a pitcher. For a hurler who’d only truly harnessed his powers for two seasons, with just those two All-Star berths to his credit, that seemed like a gigantic risk. Sign a player through his 37th birthday for an amount topped only by Clayton Kershaw, when Kershaw was already establishing himself as an all-time great and Scherzer’s resume was well below that level? This seemed like an overspend, with the potential to become an albatross.

So much for that. Since the start of the 2015 season, Scherzer leads the majors in innings pitched and strikeouts per nine innings, ranks third in ERA and third in Wins Above Replacement, trailing only Kershaw, and another possible future Hall of Famer in Chris Sale. With one more start this year, he’ll have racked up 30 or more starts in each of his nine full big league seasons. He’s on track to post the lowest ERA and highest strikeout rate of his career the year he turns 33. And he’s the favorite to win his second straight Cy Young award, the third of his career. Plus the $105 million he’s owed in 2019-2021 (the final three years of his contract) is all deferred without interest, to be paid from 2022 through 2028, a boon to the Nats as anyone with cursory knowledge of the present vs. future value of money can tell you. Whatever the opposite of an albatross is, that’s Scherzer now.

All that, and the guy is doing everything he can to help the Commissioner with one of his biggest initiatives.

3. Houston Astros (95-60, plus-157, LT: 4)

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