Scherzer finishes third to Burnes, Wheeler in close Cy Young race

Max Scherzer came up short in his quest to win the fourth Cy Young Award of his career, finishing third in a close three-way race for the 2021 National League honor, which went to the Brewers' Corbin Burnes.

Burnes, with 12 first-place votes and 151 total points, narrowly beat out the Phillies' Zack Wheeler (12 first-place votes, 141 total points) and Scherzer (six first-place votes, 113 total points) in a down-to-the-wire race between three NL right-handers who each had compelling cases to be selected.

Voters (two members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America from each NL city) ultimately selected Burnes on the strength of his league-leading 2.43 ERA, 0.940 WHIP and miniscule seven homers surrendered in 167 innings.

Thumbnail image for Scherzer-Firing-Blue-Sidebar.jpgScherzer, who had built a case on the back of his dominant closing stretch for the Dodgers (7-0, 1.98 ERA, 0.820 WHIP over 11 starts) following his blockbuster trade with Trea Turner from the Nationals for four prospects, was hoping to become only the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win at least four Cy Young Awards. He still trails Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux (four each), Randy Johnson (five) and Roger Clemens (seven).

The 37-year-old Scherzer also was trying to win the award while pitching for three different clubs. His first came in 2013 with the Tigers, followed by back-to-back wins with the Nationals in 2016-17. This one would have come while spending four months in D.C. before his trade to Los Angeles, his combined season totals working out to a 15-4 record, 2.46 ERA, league-leading 0.864 WHIP and 236 strikeouts.

Only one Cy Young Award has been given to a pitcher who was traded in-season: Rick Sutcliffe, who had nondescript numbers for Cleveland in 1984 before he was traded to Chicago, where he helped lead the Cubs to a division title with a 16-1 record and 2.69 ERA in 20 starts.

This one was no lock: All three each had compelling cases to win the honor.

Burnes went 11-5 with a league-leading 2.43 ERA, 234 strikeouts and only 34 walks. The right-hander could have been hurt by the lack of volume in his season totals, a byproduct in part of the Brewers at times using a six-man rotation and often pulling him early. (He only topped the 100-pitch mark seven times in 28 starts.)

Wheeler went 14-10 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.008 WHIP, but led the league in strikeouts (247) and innings (213 1/3), the volume of his work outpacing both Scherzer and Burnes.

How close was the race? So close this voter kept changing his mind over the season's final week before finally settling on Scherzer by the slimmest of margins.

At various points along the way, I thought I had made my decision, first for Scherzer, then for Burnes, then for Wheeler before finally circling back to Scherzer at the end. It didn't help that all three struggled in their final starts.

What was the difference? I was swayed by two factors that tipped the scale in Scherzer's favor: second-half numbers and overall performance against top opponents.

Scherzer's ERA after the All-Star break was 2.21, slightly better than Burnes' 2.50 and much better than Wheeler's 3.46 mark. (Though it should be noted Wheeler was much better in September, with a 1.47 ERA in five starts.) Given the fact all three were pitching for clubs in a pennant race - with the Dodgers and Brewers making it while the Phillies fell short - that felt important to me.

So did their respective performances against the best competition they faced. Wheeler made a whopping 13 starts against teams that made the postseason (including four against the Braves, who held off the Phillies for the NL East title) and delivered an outstanding 1.99 ERA. Burnes made only eight starts against postseason foes and finished with a strong (but less impressive, nonetheless) 2.87 ERA.

Scherzer, though, made 10 starts against teams that made the postseason and finished with a remarkable 1.69 ERA. (Seven of those 10 starts, by the way, came as a member of the Nationals, and in only one of them did he allow more than two runs.)

Maybe it's nitpicking, but in a race this close, you have no choice but to pick nits. Something has to serve as the differentiator, and for me those two stats did.

So my final ballot had Scherzer, Wheeler and Burnes ranked first, second and third, with Wheeler earning the No. 2 slot based on his considerable volume advantage over Burnes. Truth be told, I could've ranked the trio in any order and felt as confident with my selection. I also listed Walker Buehler fourth and Brandon Woodruff fifth. Others who came close to making my five-man ballot but fell just short included Kevin Gausman, Julio Urías, Adam Wainwright and Sandy Alcantara.

The American League race, meanwhile, saw a long-ago Nationals prospect win his first career Cy Young Award: Robbie Ray. The Blue Jays left-hander received 29 of 30 first-place votes, with the Yankees' Gerrit Cole receiving the other, and ran away with the honor.

Drafted by the Nationals in the 12th round in 2010, Ray was one of three players traded to the Tigers in December 2013 for Doug Fister, who helped the Nats win the 2014 NL East title. Ray's meandering career has seen him pitch for the Tigers, Diamondbacks and now the Blue Jays, his career finally taking off in his eighth big league season.

Can Soto topple Harper for NL MVP honors tonight?
How would we view another Cy Young for Scherzer?

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to