Max Scherzer wins third career Cy Young Award (updated)

Max Scherzer just joined an awfully exclusive club featuring some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history: three-time Cy Young Award winner.

And he’s not exactly sure how to process it all just yet.

“That’s why I’m drinking a lot of champagne tonight,” the right-hander said with a laugh, some 90 minutes after learning of his victory. “Look, anytime you win a Cy Young Award, it’s a special feeling, a special moment. ... But this one is special.”

It’s special in part because Scherzer toppled two of the National League’s very best - teammate Stephen Strasburg and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw - in a high-profile showdown of elite pitching. And he did so by a surprisingly large margin.

Scherzer received 27 out of 30 first-place votes submitted by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America prior to the start of the postseason, along with three second-place votes, for a total of 201 points. Kershaw finished second overall with 126 points and three first-place votes. Strasburg finished third with 81 points, only one of which was for a spot higher than third place.

Gio Gonzalez placed sixth with 18 points, giving the Nationals three of the top six NL Cy Young finishers.

max-scherzer-clap-gray.jpgIt’s Scherzer’s second straight NL Cy Young Award to go along with the 2013 American League award he won while pitching for the Tigers, and it permanently etches his place among baseball’s all-time pitching greats.

Scherzer is now one of only 10 men to win the Cy Young Award at least three times, joining Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four), Greg Maddux (four), Sandy Koufax (three), Pedro Martinez (three), Jim Palmer (three), Tom Seaver (three) and Kershaw (three).

The only members of that group who aren’t in the Hall of Fame are Kershaw (who isn’t eligible yet) and Clemens (who would be in if not for allegations of performance enhancing drugs).

“When you start talking about winning it three times, I can’t even comprehend it at this point in time,” Scherzer said. “It’s such an unbelievable feeling and unbelievable moment, you really won’t process it until years later. That’s kind of what I’ve found by winning these things: You realize what that means about a year later. At this moment, I’m on cloud nine. I think I’ll be better able to answer that question in about a year.”

On the heels of his 2016 Cy Young performance, Scherzer actually improved in several statistical departments. He reduced his ERA by nearly a half a run to 2.51, lowered his already-league-low WHIP to 0.902 and surrendered a miniscule 5.9 hits per nine innings. Scherzer led the NL with 268 strikeouts and finished with a 16-6 record and 200 2/3 innings pitched over 31 starts, missing a couple of outings due to some nagging late-season injuries.

Scherzer’s durability may have been the deciding factor in his favor over Kershaw, who actually topped him with an 18-4 record and 2.31 ERA. The Los Angeles lefty, though, made only 27 starts and totaled only 175 innings due to a back injury that landed him on the disabled list for 5 1/2 weeks in July and August.

Strasburg also missed time with an injury, with a midsummer nerve impingement in his elbow restricting him to 28 starts and 175 1/3 innings. Still, the Nationals’ second ace rode a dominant second half to the best overall season of his career, going 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.015 WHIP. This was the first time Strasburg finished in the top three in Cy Young Award balloting, but he reserved his praise for his rotation mate.

“Congratulations, you earned it,” Strasburg said to Scherzer on MLB Network’s award announcement show. “It was really fun to watch. I can’t wait to get back at it here in spring training.”

Signed to a seven-year, $210 million contract - at the time a record for a free agent pitcher - in January 2015, Scherzer has now won back-to-back Cy Young Awards after a fifth-place finish in his first season with the Nationals.

“Watching Max pitch every fifth day in our uniform has been a source of great pride for our entire family - and, we’re sure, our collective fan base,” managing principal owner Ted Lerner said in a team-issued statement. “We are awed by his penchant for historic performances and eagerly await his starts to see what feat he will conquer next, and what other peaks his career in Washington will reach.”

Scherzer, who admitted a still-lingering negative vibe after playing a role in the Nationals’ latest Game 5 loss in the National League Division Series, made clear his priority when he returns to the mound next season.

“My only goal for 2018,” he said, “is to be a better pitcher than I was in 2017.”

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