While the Washington Nationals made a big splash in the offseason by signing Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract, adding him to an already impressive starting rotation, they were done in over the weekend by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pair of aces.
Clayton Kershaw muscled his way through eight innings of scoreless work, striking out 14 along the way, which set a season high and came within one strikeout of tying his career high. The performance led to Nationals right fielder and 2015 MVP candidate Bryce Harper calling Kershaw the best pitcher in baseball.
Harper went 0-for-3 against Kershaw with three strikeouts. His lone hit was a two-run home run in the ninth inning of Kenley Jansen. The Nationals then got a look at Zack Greinke on Sunday, who arguably was the best pitcher through the first half of the season.
All Greinke did to follow in Kershaw’s footsteps was set his own season high with 11 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings. Harper finished 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and one walk against Greinke; Harper reached on an infield single in the ninth with J.P. Howell on the mound.
While Greinke dazzled in a similar manner to that of Kershaw, Harper wasn’t nearly as quick to heap praise on the right-hander, via Chase Hughes of CSN Washington:
I think he was okay. When you’re getting five to six inches off of the plate, you better win the game,” Harper said. “For me, I don’t think he was very tough. He’s a great pitcher, he does what he does, but when you’re getting six inches off the plate it’s pretty tough to face him.”
Harper went on to soften his stance, though still pointed to a future matchup as reason why he wasn’t quite as complimentary:
He’s a good pitcher. He’s doing what he’s doing to help that team over there, but I don’t want to give him too much credit because I’ve gotta face him again. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t really want to give him too much credit because of that reason, but he’s a damn good pitcher,” Harper said. Harper was asked what he thought of Greinke’s streak and he couldn’t offer much of an answer: “I don’t know, I don’t watch him so I have no idea what he’s doing. I couldn’t tell you. Maybe ask some people on the west. I don’t really watch him, so.”
As it stands, Greinke is scheduled to start a three-game series opener Aug. 10 against the Nationals at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw currently isn’t lined up to faced Washington during that series. Max Scherzer, the other ace in Sunday’s tilt didn’t hesitate to give Greinke the edge in their head-to-head battle, according to Bill Ladson of MLB.com:
Giving up only one run is good, but good is not good enough when you’re going up against Greinke and what he’s doing right now,” Scherzer said. “He just completely shut us down. He was throwing the ball outstanding and I wasn’t able to match him.”
Sunday’s home plate Bill Miller did at times have a generous strike zone, though it didn’t necessarily appear to favor one team or the other. A called strike three on Alberto Callaspo in the second inning elicited a yell from Kershaw, who was sitting on the top step in the dugout.
Moreover, as a pitcher who’s established himself as one with good — if not great — command, Greinke tends to get the benefit of the doubt more times than not when nibbling on the corners of the plate. Greinke’s scoreless streak now sits at 43.2 innings and he owns baseball’s best ERA (1.30), the lowest batting average against (.187) and the second-lowest WHIP (0.82).