Home runs are nice, but I'll always prefer watching the elite pitching matchup, which is exactly what we're going to see tonight in Washington, D.C when the Mets face the Nationals.
Jacob deGrom (2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 214 strikeouts in 169.0 innings) will start for the Mets.
Max Scherzer (2.46 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 200 strikeouts in 142.2 innings) will start for the Nationals.
Two aces. Face to face. And both again competing for the National League Cy Young Award.
Last season, deGrom outperformed Scherzer and was the overwhelming choice to the win the award. It was deGrom's first Cy Young, which I assume now sits on a shelf next to his 2014 Rookie of the Year award.
The year before, Scherzer won the Cy Young.
This season -- yet again -- it's deGrom and Scherzer atop the NL leaders in WAR for pitchers.
DeGrom's 5.0 trails only Scherzer's 5.8, with them both leading Stephen Strasburg, who the Mets will not see during their current series in Washington.
Earlier Tuesday, I asked 10 baseball writers who would get their vote if the season ended today. Strasburg got two votes, deGrom got three and the remaining five picked Scherzer. No one mentioned Hyun-Jin Ryu or Walker Buehler (Dodgers) or Patrick Corbin (Nationals).
I ran the same question by 10 writers one year ago and they all preferred deGrom.
This is why Tuesday night is special, especially because there's a legit possibility Scherzer and deGrom eventually face off in the Wild Card game. The Nationals currently lead the top spot for the NL Wild Card, while the Mets trail the second spot by 4.0 games.
The Mets are 9-11 since Aug. 10, during which the Nationals are 16-4. However, the Mets won, 7-3, Monday during the first game of the current three-game series between the two NL East rivals.
"People don't luck their way into the postseason," Nationals shortstop Trea Turner told reporters Monday. "If we want to be there at the end of the day, we're going to have to play these teams and get some wins."
Since joining the Nationals in 2015, Scherzer has a 2.40 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 16 starts against the Mets. He also tossed a no-hitter against them in 2015. Meanwhile, in 11 starts against the Nationals since 2017, deGrom has a 1.88 ERA, which during that time is the best ERA by any one pitcher against Washington.
The two aces have already started against one another twice this season (March 28 in D.C., May 22 in Queens), with the Mets winning both games. It's also worth noting that, while the Nationals have dominated the other three NL East teams, they have lost seven of their last eight games against the Mets. What's more, Washington pitchers have a 5.27 ERA against the Mets, yet are a full run better against the rest of the division.
In the box Tuesday night, deGrom needs to be most careful pitching to Anthony Rendon, who is batting .535 with five HR and 14 RBI during his past 12 games.
For Scherzer, he best keep an eye on Pete Alonso, who has finally shaken off his post-All Star Break funk. Alonso, who is clearly going to win the Rookie of the Year award, belted his 43rd home run Sunday and has reached base safely in 28 straight games, which is the longest active streak in baseball.
In the end, though, I'll take deGrom's and Scherzer's talent over any hitter on either team.
In an era when strikeouts dominate the game, Scherzer is the man.
The thing I enjoy when watching him is how creative he gets with his fastball. He is basically throwing with the same velocity as he did when entering the league with the Tigers. However, he now throws it less often and, when he does, it is in random counts and unpredictable moments during the at-bat.
I assume Scherzer has a plan, but I get the impression he pitches more off gut, momentum and feel than any one set strategy. He gets away with this because he uses a three-quarter arm angle, hides the ball exceptionally well (it looks like it shoots from his shoulder) and the spin on all of his pitches -- be it fastball, slider or something else -- are nearly identical.
DeGrom has more velocity on his fastball, but also has impeccable command.
"He's a power pitcher, but he doesn't present himself like one," an NL East scout told me in spring training. "He almost never throws with maximum effort. It's always calm, free and easy, even when he's struggling because he can always lull you in to a rhythm and then if needed wake you up with a near-100 mph fastball."
I find I have no choice but to comment -- literally every time I watch him pitch -- about his calm-yet-focused demeanor and the conviction with which he throws each pitch.
"He competes. He goes out there, he attacks hitters, everything he has control over, he really attacks with everything he's got," Scherzer said of deGrom last summer. "That's an evolution thing, and he's gotten better every single year. Great signs, and shows you how hard he works."
I most admire deGrom's ability to manage moments and get through it all with an incredible mental toughness, i.e., the way he shakes off not having his best stuff or trailing in the game or when runners are on base. In every situation, be it easy or tense, early in the game or late, he always pitches like there are no fans in the building, no umpires, no cameras, no pressure. It's just him, the batter, and the catcher.
There is winning and losing. There are goals and stats and highlights. But, there is also artistry in baseball. There is nuance. And there are countless isolated actions and elite skills that often go unnoticed.
Though the outcome of Tuesday night's game is obviously important, do yourself a favor and ignore the standings for just a moment and simply enjoy the brilliance of two of the best pitchers on the planet.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!