Max Scherzer’s historical September struggles against Atlanta could save tonight’s series

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

Whether you choose Pickswise or something else to help you choose your MLB bets, I can almost guarantee the Braves are ‘dogs tonight against the Dodgers. Atlanta has lost both of the first two games of the series, and they’ll face the infamous Max Scherzer for the finale — at Dodger Stadium no less. What I’m getting at is that no one would blame you for putting your money on LA.

But this matchup of the Maxes is a little more interesting than simply a Braves team holding onto the division for dear life versus a red-hot Dodgers club. If you squint… there’s a world where Atlanta could be worth a small play in this one, especially when considering the veteran’s late-season struggles against the Braves.

I caution you when looking at Max Scherzer’s numbers for this season. Not only does he rank sixth in baseball in fWAR (3.7) among starting pitchers with at least 140 innings in 2021, but the 37-year-old veteran is currently as hot as ever, having become nearly unhittable over the last month or so.

Max Scherzer (last six starts)

35 IP, 1.54 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 2 BB/9

And unlike his opponent on the mound tonight in Max Fried, Scherzer has faced some pretty stacked competition lately, going up against the likes of the Phillies, Astros, Phillies again, the Mets twice in a row… and most-recently the Padres. Hell, last week Scherzer tossed a two-hitter versus San Diego, lasting into the eighth. He punched out ten. I think it’s safe to say… the man is coming in HOT.

But don’t forget about Fried. His stellar work of late may have come against lesser offenses, but the younger Max has been just as impressive…

Max Fried (last six starts)

40 IP, 1.58 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 0.9 BB/9

Tonight is no doubt a must-see as both starters are at the top of their game, and you probably already knew that. But I propose, in case you’re a bit worried about tonight, that you have a little faith. As we’ve seen many times over the last several seasons, Scherzer can sometimes implode against the Braves.

Numbers-wise, the splits aren’t bad. Scherzer has compiled a 4.04 ERA versus Atlanta over his career, in 151.2 innings worth of work. That’s not great, especially for him… but it’s certainly not terrible. For one thing, Scherzer is plenty familiar with the Braves offense, or at least some of the main contributors. However, historically it really hasn’t seemed to help him any.

  • Last September, while with the Nationals, Scherzer’s worst outing of the 2020 campaign came against the Braves. The Atlanta offense roughed him up for six runs in 5.1 innings of work and ended up winning that game 8-4. Luckily for Scherzer, he only had to face the Braves once during that shortened regular season slate.
  • The 2019 season featured another horrid September outing against Atlanta. In this one, Scherzer was much better, though, allowing just three runs from seven hits in five innings. Still, it still went down as the second-worst start of his season, and the Braves ended up winning that one 10-6. Of course I can’t just cherry-pick the bad. Scherzer also had one solid outing versus Atlanta in September of 2019 – one in which he struck out nine in six innings and allowed just one run from two hits.
  • In 2018, Scherzer saw plenty of the Braves, facing them five times that season. Of those five, three of them were among his six-worst starts of the year, including a September 14 outing in which the hard-thrower allowed six runs in four innings as part of a 17-7 loss. Yeah, that one in particular was scored as a 27 in terms of Game Score – a whopping 17 points lower than his next-worst start during that season. This September trend is looking pretty good, right?
  • And what do ya know… another worst-start-of-the-year happened to be against the Braves in 2017… in September… again! In this one, the Braves routed the Nationals 14-6 after Scherzer allowed seven runs and walked six in six innings of miserable pitching. In a May 20 start that season he also allowed a pair of homers in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta. Three of Scherzer’s other outings versus the Braves that year wound up as solid starts, though.
  • Scherzer’s 2016 results against Atlanta were better, but he did have two August outings in which he allowed four runs apiece (though somehow managing to win both). He also went up against the Braves twice in September that year, but he managed to allow a combined four runs over 14 innings, including 13 strikeouts.

I figure five seasons is far enough to go back, but there’s certainly a trend here. Scherzer has had some remarkable performances against the Braves in his time, but when he’s off, it definitely seems to come during the season’s final month. Of course, baseball doesn’t operate under these types of splits. Lineups change every season, and the Braves offense in 2021 is nowhere near what it was the last time Scherzer faced it. Just because there are several bad outings in the past, doesn’t mean one is likely tonight. But for the Braves, now just 2.5 games up in the division, any sort of optimism is needed.

Atlanta is facing a possible series sweep on Wednesday, and to make matters worse they’ll go up against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now. At this point a win is incredibly valuable. So if you’re concerned with the Scherzer matchup tonight… that’s fair. But if the last five years of late-season games against Scherzer is any indication, the Braves chances at success actually doesn’t look too bad.

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