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May 18

Solid Scherzer is Nats’ anchor

Lots of people thought the Nationals already had the best starting pitching in the major leagues before Jan. 21, when Max Scherzer joined the team with a seven-year, $120 million free-agent deal. Some might even have thought it was a superfluous move by the Nats, an investment that might have been better made in another big bat or re-signing one of the key players whose contacts are set to expire after the 2015 season.

But six weeks into the 2015 season, there’s little doubt that the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner has made the Washington pitching staff infinitely better, and that he’s earning every penny he’s being paid.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the brilliance that is Maxwell M. Scherzer.

He is the only player in the National League who ranks in the top five in every one of the following categories: ERA (1.75, fourth), Strikeouts (66, tied for first), opponents’ batting average (.207, fifth), walks allowed (8, tied for fifth) and WHIP (0.92, fourth). His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which basically measures his effectiveness despite what started out this season as a subpar defense behind him, is an NL-best 2.04. And if not for that defense, he might very well have more than his current four wins.

So far this season, Scherzer (4-3, 1.75 ERA) has outpitched both of last season’s Cy Young winners, Clayton Kershaw (2-2, 4.24) and Corey Kluber (1-5, 4.27), as well as World Series hero Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 3.20).

Scherzer held the New York Mets hitless through five innings on opening day, and without an error behind him would likely have taken a no-hitter into the seventh. He had what passes for a “rough patch” in his world on April 27 and May 1, when he took back-to-back losses, yielding two earned runs over seven innings to the Cardinals, and one earned run over seven innings to the Mets. His worst outing of the season so far came May 6 against Miami, in which he earned a win despite giving up five earned runs over seven innings.

His last two starts, however, have been the stuff that postseason honors are made of. Against the Diamondbacks and Padres, he allowed just one earned run over 14 innings, striking out 17 and walking three. On Saturday against the Padres, Scherzer saved his best work for the toughest situations. With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, he induced an inning-ending pop up from Will Middlebrooks. Three innings, later, he went out on a high note by striking out Austin Hedges and Abraham Almonte with men on first and third. That’s not just rearing back and throwing; that’s pitching.

The rest of the Nationals’ vaunted rotation is still rounding into form. Jordan Zimmermann is finally looking like himself. Stephen Strasburg may have put his recent troubles behind him, putting together five decent innings before losing it in the sixth against the Padres. Gio Gonzalez is still looking for consistency. With Doug Fister on the disabled list and rookie AJ Cole likely to fill in for at least a couple starts, the team is fortunate to have an anchor in Scherzer, a guy who has shown up with everything he has for every start this season.

It’ a good thing the Nats decided to sign him.