ORLANDO, Fla. -- Not often does a pitcher follow up a Cy Young Award-winning year with an even better season the next year. Max Scherzer, however, continues to prove that he is no ordinary pitcher.
Scherzer's determination to constantly improve helped make his 2017 season even better than '16, which has put him on the cusp of winning back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards. The winner will be announced Wednesday night on MLB Network. Scherzer is one of three finalists, along with rotation mate Stephen Strasburg and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.
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Scherzer enters as the presumptive favorite in part because of his edge in innings pitched. Of the three finalists, he accumulated the highest innings total at 200 2/3, the only one of the three to log more than 200 frames. Scherzer had a brief stint on the disabled list with a neck injury, but it only cost him two starts; both Strasburg and Kershaw were sidelined for more time.
That edge in durability helped Scherzer lead NL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (6.0) and strikeouts (268). In 31 starts, Scherzer also posted a career-low 2.51 ERA, with a 0.90 WHIP, a 2.90 Fielding Independent Pitching mark and 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
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Scherzer took the ball consistently every fifth day, and he usually pitched deep into the game, which is becoming more rare for starting pitchers. He was the starter for the NL All-Star team in July, and he had a 2.10 ERA in 18 starts through the first half and a 3.24 ERA in 13 starts after the break.
Strikeouts were a staple for Scherzer as he became the fourth pitcher in Major League history to strike out 250-plus for the fourth consecutive season, joining Randy Johnson, Fergie Jenkins and Pedro Martinez. Scherzer struck out double-digit batters in six straight games from May 26-June 21, the longest streak in the NL this season. He followed that up by striking out at least 10 batters in three straight games from July 2-15.
Scherzer's peers voted him the NL's Outstanding Pitcher in last week's Players Choice Awards. He would become the first NL pitcher to win consecutive Cy Young Awards since Kershaw from 2013-14. This would be Scherzer's third Cy Young Award, which could place him among elite company.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.