Max Scherzer shuts down feeble Cardinals, reminding them once again of the one that got away

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Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

For Max Scherzer, there’s always going to be a grudge between him and the hitter. Just watch the madman pitch. The guy at the plate wronged him and must be struck out, and Scherzer will stop at nothing to get it done. Isn’t that someone you’d want on your team, regardless of age or price?

Scherzer is gunning for his fourth Cy Young award this season, and he strengthened his case on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Making minced meat out of their hitting attempts, the St. Louis native son that got away went eight innings and struck out 13 batters. According to Bally Sports Midwest commentator Dan McLaughlin, it was the 104th time in his career he had collected double-digit strikeout totals in a start.

In other words, he’s unreal and St. Louis never had a chance in yesterday’s game. From the moment Mike Shildt’s lineup card hit the official docket, with the .180 hitting Matt Carpenter in the 5th spot and Nolan Arenado getting a day off, the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold and other reporters in the media pool could have started writing the game recap even before first pitch.

Scherzer represents the best kind of old school, a pitching supernova with two different colored eyes and an assortment of pitches that could tame just about any bat. Whether it’s the high-octane four-seam fastball or the “keeping you honest” curveball, it’s a hard day’s night at the plate for any professional hitter. With the exception of Paul Goldschmidt, who had three singles in the game, Scherzer allowed only three other hits and walked zero batters in Monday’s game, throwing 103 efficient pitches, 74 of them strikes.

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Here’s how much the guy wants to win and just eat up innings. In the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Cardinals broke up the shutout Scherzer was throwing by scoring on a passed ball, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wanted to challenge the play. Every ounce of Scherzer’s being couldn’t have cared less about the run scoring or not; he just wanted to keep mincing those bats. That’s what you call an all-out gamer. Someone the Cardinals should have made a play for back in 2015 before he went to the Washington Nationals and went from being a pretty good pitcher to one of the best in the Majors.

While it’s true that I wasn’t hot on the idea back then for reasons that now look futile, no one can disagree that the team’s overall trajectory would have been much different since then with Scherzer in Cardinal Red. That’s what makes the sight of him wheeling and dealing with such ease out there Sunday so bittersweet to digest. It’s the same reason I urged the Cards to trade for him at this year’s deadline, even if it made about as much sense as hiring a manager with zero MLB managing experience. Placing him on this team would be a game-changer, even if a World Series matchup would still seem far-fetched.

Of course, Scherzer is only half of the “what if” show currently rolling through town. With the Dodgers in for three more games, Albert Pujols is bound to start at least two of them according to Roberts. Like the pitcher, fans around St. Louis have been clamoring for a Pujols reunion here, one that keeps slipping away. So you have two star-crossed situations taking place right in front of Cardinal Nation this week: a returning icon and another icon who slipped past the front office’s radar. Only one of them is still producing like a boss.

I’d like to personally ask John Mozeliak what about Scherzer made him steer clear of the big contract all those years ago. While my concerns were wrapped about innings per start and complete game ability (two things an ace should produce consistently), perhaps there was something else that tipped off Mo and team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. Or maybe, they just didn’t think it was a good idea — which has been their thought process for the past six to seven trade deadlines anyway.

One could cut the snark in the room right now with a knife. It’s troubling to see an expensive yet weak Cardinals team take the field against Scherzer, the hometown kid who didn’t allow St. Louis a single run against him for almost two years before the passed ball broke it up yesterday. Seeing him slash through the feeble group, with the only damage coming from Goldschmidt’s wasted singles, should confirm just how far and wide the gap is between the very best teams in the league and the Cardinals.

These are the kind of matchups and teams that will forever stand in the way. If Los Angeles had any brain cells, they would re-sign Scherzer and keep him around. They already have Mookie Betts wreaking havoc. Outside of Goldschmidt, the only real power hope St. Louis had against him was Tyler O’Neill–whose bat and swing suddenly resembled Mr. Freeze. Add it all up and the Cardinals are flat out inferior.

Facing Scherzer, instead of possibly having him on your side in a game like yesterday, is both thrilling and deflating at the same time. A Labor Day game that was written completely before first pitch and left to soak in long after the final pitch thrown by ex-Cards pitcher, Joe Kelly.

In a nutshell, Scherzer, along with Pujols, represent what the team lacks this year: dominance and entertainment. They lack the dominance in the rotation, outside of Adam Wainwright, and their lineup is boring most evenings. A hyper-pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium helps with that. A weak roster does as well.

As Tony Stark once said to his eventual wife, Pepper Potts, when Black Widow walked into the room… I’d like one of those. I’d like a Max Scherzer. I’m sure Cardinal Nation would, too. In 2021, they’ll have to settle for waving at him as he and the Dodgers cruise by on their way to another World Series run. DeWitt Jr, Mozeliak, and company just get to look at the talent that got away and continues to put a dent in their plans.

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