Los Angeles Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw and Washington Nationals’ righty Max Scherzer are the two best pitchers in the game. But which one of them is Major League Baseball’s ace? Here are the cases for and against Kershaw and Scherzer being crowned with the prestigious honor and who has the edge.
The Case For Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw has been the best starting pitcher of this decade. He hasn’t recorded an ERA at or above three since his rookie season (2008) and poses an overpowering threat on the rubber. With the exception of an injury-riddled 2016 season, the southpaw has posted 200-plus strikeouts in every year of the current decade and been virtually unhittable.
His curveball is nasty, he hits the high 90’s with his fastball, and puts little to no runners on base. Owning a career WHIP of one and not recording one over as such from 2013-17, he’s been nearly impossible to rattle. In seven starts this season, Kershaw has recorded a 2.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 48 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched.
There’s no one else you’d rather have on the hill in a regular season game than Kershaw. He’s the leader of the Dodgers’ starting staff, their most prominent figure, and a workhorse. Even through a bad outing, Kershaw can get through six/seven innings; when healthy, he has the best stuff in the game.
The Case Against Kershaw
While Kershaw has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown and has been baseball’s best starting pitcher for a long period of time, there are some factors working against the Dodgers’ ace. For starters, Kershaw has struggled to pitch like his dominant self in the postseason. In 24 playoff appearances — 19 of which have been starts — Kershaw has recorded a 4.35 ERA. He struggles to blow his heater and breaking balls past hitters and is simply not an ace in the postseason. Last year’s playoffs were a perfect example of that notion. Sure, Kershaw finished with a 3.82 postseason ERA but he also gave up eight home runs in six appearances, including four in one outing. He then surrendered six runs in his Game 5 outing versus the Houston Astros in the World Series — leading to a Dodgers’ loss and eventually them losing the series.
The other factor working against Kershaw is his health. He’s suffered a back injury in three of the last five years and hasn’t started 30-plus games since 2015. When healthy, Kershaw is, undoubtedly, the best lefty in the game. But a numerous amount of back injuries to a pitcher can be demoralizing, and Kershaw is now on the 10-day disabled list with biceps tendinitis; the injuries are beginning to become a serious long-term issue for the Dodgers’ ace.
The Case For Scherzer
Max Scherzer has dazzled the Nationals and the baseball world throughout the majority of this decade. He recorded 200-plus strikeouts from 2012-17 and is off to a superb start this season. In eight starts this season, Scherzer has recorded a 1.74 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings; he’s currently on pace to record 300 strikeouts — which is astonishing. Like Kershaw, when Scherzer has his command, he’s formidable. He blows his fastball past hitters, has nasty breaking pitches, and operates with a great deal of emotion. He can grind through outings, get out of trouble, and show up in a crucial game.
Scherzer has won two Cy Young Awards in his three and a half years with the Nationals and three for his career as a whole. He’s recorded an ERA under three and a WHIP under one in every year he’s been in the nation’s capital and has been a handful for opposing lineups; it’s hard to discredit those accolades.
The Case Against Scherzer
Scherzer has, collectively, been a force to be reckoned with in the regular season. At the same time, the righty has struggled to do so with consistency over the stretch of an entire year. He’s begun many seasons with a low ERA and then been rocked in the summer. Granted bad starts are inevitable for even premier pitchers, Scherzer has gotten off to hot starts and faded towards the end of the season — which leads into the other hole in his production.
No one is going to say that Scherzer can’t pitch in the big game or dominate in October, but in the last three years he’s made a playoff appearance, the righty hasn’t pitched up to expectations. Last season, he made an appearance out of the bullpen in a win-or-go-home Game 5 and gave up four runs in one inning of work. He also gave up four runs in a Game 1 outing the year prior. Sure, he’s had stellar outings, but Scherzer’s 3.73 postseason ERA doesn’t come anywhere near his regular season success in recent memory.
Kershaw and Scherzer are the best lefty and righty in the game, and choosing between the two is an essential coin toss. But when measuring where both of them stand for the time being, Scherzer is MLB’s ace.
Kershaw and Scherzer have each been underwhelming in the postseason, but the Nats’ ace has been slightly better. Scherzer has also managed to stay healthy — something Kershaw has struggled with in recent memory. Scherzer has made 30-plus starts a year ever since he was permanently utilized as a starting pitcher back in 2009 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The righty has encountered injuries along the way, but that’s the case with most pitchers and players for that matter. However, Kershaw is struggling to stay healthy on an every year basis — which is alarming. One must wonder how many back injuries he can endure before it starts to impact his performance.
The two aces have gone head-to-head in the past and matched each other in nearly every category. On one hand, Kershaw is just 30 but has most likely peaked — though, what he is now resembles a Hall of Fame pitcher. On the other hand, Scherzer is 33 and continues to improve — although he too has little more room for growth. Looking forward, you can trust and have seen that Scherzer can be relied on to pitch every fifth game and, at the very least, hold his own in the postseason. Kershaw’s durability and severe postseason blunders are reasons for concern as he grows older.
There are legitimate cases that can be made when it comes to choosing Kershaw or Scherzer. But in 2018, Scherzer has the edge as MLB’s ace.