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Max Scherzer could be primed to throw second straight no-no

6/26/2015

We highly recommend that the Johnny Vander Meer Fan Club upgrade the panic level to full-blown high alert Friday night.

If ever there was reason to think there's an imminent threat to the back-to-back no-hit legacy of the storied Vander Meer, this could be it:

Max Scherzer versus the Phillies.

You can catch that matchup Friday evening in South Philadelphia. And one scout who covers the NL East says that if baseball history aficionados have other plans, they might want to cancel them immediately, because this one bears watching.

"The Phillies could be in danger," said this scout, who has seen enough of both Scherzer and the Phillies' historically inept offense to issue that sort of warning. "I can see him, in his mind, saying, 'I'd kind of like to one-up that Vander Meer.'"

Well, this just in: Scherzer already has.

As David Schoenfield so eloquently documented this week, Scherzer's last two starts for the Nationals were actually way more dominating than Vander Meer's consecutive no-hitters for the 1938 Reds. But here's another look, just for fun:

Check out that chart one more time. Other than the hits column, where exactly did Vander Meer outperform Scherzer in any way? Correct answer: Nowhere.

But that isn't the only reason this hallowed Vander Meer feat might be in jeopardy Friday. Here are five other reasons:

Because Scherzer's no-no was actually a step back!

I'm not sure we've ever seen this: Last Saturday against Pittsburgh, Max Scherzer almost pitched a perfect game -- and it wasn't even his best start of the week.

Seriously. How does a guy top a 10-strikeout, zero-walk no-hitter? With a 16-strikeout, one-walk one-hitter, obviously. Which Scherzer just happened to spin the previous Sunday in Milwaukee.

We went through Baseball-Reference.com's awesome Play Index and found all the instances in the last century in which a pitcher had back-to-back starts with game scores of 90 or better. The closest we came to finding anybody on that list, in the live ball era, who fired a no-hitter that wasn't even his best start in the streak was a flurry by Tommy Greene of the Phillies, back in May 1991.

He followed a no-hitter with a nine-strikeout three-hitter -- but his game score was exactly 90 in each. So his other start qualified as "just as good" as his no-hitter, but not better. Sorry!

I did find one instance before the live ball era, though. On May 11, 1919, the Reds' Hod Eller twirled an eight-strikeout no-hitter that earned a 92 game score. Then, in his next start, he pitched 13 innings of five-hit baseball, which was good for a 99. So there you go.

But nobody on the list did it in Scherzer's order -- in which the no-hitter wasn't even as dominant as the start that came before it. And anytime a tidbit like this includes the word "nobody," you know you're onto something pretty amazing.

Because Scherzer is the Pud Galvin of his time

According to our favorite Streak Guru, loyal reader Trent McCotter, only one pitcher in history has ever allowed fewer baserunners over any two-start stretch than Max Scherzer just allowed. And it was -- who else? -- the immortal James Francis (Pud) Galvin, back in 1884.

On the way to a relaxing 46-win, 636-inning, 71-complete-game season for the old Buffalo Bisons, the Pudster made back-to-back starts against Stump Wiedman's late, great Detroit Wolverines that didn't end well for those poor Wolverines:

Aug. 2 -- 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

Aug. 4 -- 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

One batter did reach on an error in the no-hitter. So over those two starts, a total of two men reached base. Two.

And what did Galvin do in his next start (also against the Wolverines) on Aug. 7? Shut them out again, of course. On three hits this time. And he followed that up with 12 more shutout innings, with 16 strikeouts, the very next day. Yep, against the Wolverines.

So the heck with Johnny Vander Meer. Let's see if Mad Max can top Pud Galvin! Fewest baserunners over a three-start span: just five, by the Pudmeister. Good luck on that one.

Because Scherzer is the most dominant pitcher in the NL

Can a guy get much more overpowering than Max Scherzer is this year? Take a look:

Batters faced: 394

Hits allowed: 68

Strikeout/walk ratio: 123/14

Opponent slash line: .181 AVG/.216 OBP /.274 SLG/.490 OPS

Games with more strikeouts than hits allowed: 10

Games with more hits allowed than strikeouts: 3

Versus right-handed hitters: 30-for-195 (.154), 72 K, 4 BB

Versus first hitter of an inning: 12-for-100 (.120), 31 K, 3 BB

I could easily keep spinning these gems, but you've probably caught on by now. And the funny thing is, Scherzer has been even more dominant to the eyeballs than he is on the stat sheets.

"He's a freaking warrior," said the same scout, who has seen Scherzer three times since spring training -- and still hasn't witnessed him give up a run. "He goes and gets velocity whenever he wants. He can take his fastball and sink it, or add, or subtract. He's got the best right-handed slider I've seen since John Smoltz in his prime. He's got a 'plus' changeup and a 'plus' curveball. And he's an animal. If you're a hitter and you look out there at him, you'd say, 'I don't want to hit against this guy.'"

Because the Phillies are slightly offensively challenged

Don't let their shocking little three-day flurry from Sunday to Tuesday -- when they scored nine-plus runs in three straight games for the first time in nine years -- fool you. Hitting a baseball isn't exactly the Phillies' area of expertise this year.

•  They've scored one run or none 18 times. That's tied for the most in baseball.

•  They've scored two runs or fewer 30 times. That's the second-most.

•  They've been shut out eight times. That's tied for second-most.

•  They just finished a stretch in which they went nine days between homers.

•  They just finished an overlapping stretch in which they scored a total of 21 runs in 11 games.

•  In a related development, they went a mind-blowing 6-for-62 with runners in scoring position in that stretch.

•  And if the season were to end today (which at least would help them avoid facing Scherzer), they'd finish it with an average of 3.30 runs per game, 0.62 home runs per game and a grim .241/.292/.358/.650 slash line. How many teams have had a season like that since baseball lowered the mound in 1969? Precisely six.

And remember, before last Sunday, they were on pace to score just 486 runs this season -- which would have been the fewest since Downtown Ollie Brown's 1971 Padres. So this is actually the Phillies' offensive high-water mark for the season. But here's why Mad Max probably isn't worried by that. ...

Because Scherzer owns the Phillies

The season is only 74 games old. But 24 times already, the opposing starter has held the Phillies to one run or none. And three of those times, that opposing starter was named (wait for it):

Max Scherzer.

Those three starts have gone this way:

22 innings, 14 hits, 23 strikeouts, 3 walks, 0 home runs, 42 swings and misses.

Ryan Howard is 1-for-9 against him, with six strikeouts. ... The two catchers, Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp, are 0-for-9, with three strikeouts. ... Freddy Galvis is 1-for-11. ... Jeff Francoeur is 1-for-6. ... Maikel Franco is 0-for-3. ... Only Odubel Herrera (4-for-9), Ben Revere (2-for-6) and Cody Asche (2-for-6) have multiple hits against Scherzer -- and they've combined to drive in two runs and score one.

So consider the possibilities. I bet the Johnny Vander Meer Fan Club has.

"You know how we talk about deep lineups that string together good at-bats?" chuckled the same scout. "In the Phillies' case, we're talking about a deep lineup of guys who've got holes, who don't make a lot of adjustments. And now, they're about to face a guy on this kind of roll, with this kind of stuff?

"Those are the things that magic is made of."