WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer battled through some trouble on the mound in his final tuneup before the postseason, but he collected two hits and a career-high four RBIs at the plate as the Nationals closed the regular season with a 10-7 victory over the Marlins on Sunday at Nationals Park.
Scherzer allowed five runs on a season-high nine hits -- including two homers -- in five innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. But the Nationals' offense broke out for double-digit runs for the 14th time this season to help Scherzer earn his 20th win. It's the second time in Scherzer's career that he has won 20 games, the other coming in 2013, the year he won the American League Cy Young Award. He has put together a strong case to win the National League version of the award this season.
"It's great. It's unbelievable, and honestly, it's such a team accomplishment," Scherzer said. "These guys absolutely supported me the whole year, playing defense, going out there and scoring runs, and our bullpen coming in and shutting the door. I don't win 20 without the rest of these guys in the clubhouse. They've been grinding the whole year for me. It's just an unbelievable honor."
The Nationals completed the season 95-67, winners of the NL East for the third time in five years. They will host the Dodgers for Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Friday, and although Washington has not officially announced its rotation, Scherzer almost certainly will take the mound against Clayton Kershaw.
"We came out here to be consistent, and this was the goal: To win the division," Scherzer said. "We did it. At least we got home-field advantage against the Dodgers. We accomplished that. Now the fun begins."
The Marlins finished a disappointing and emotional season at 79-82, their seventh consecutive losing season. A bright spot Sunday afternoon came from a pair of rookies, Dustin Hood and Tomas Telis, who both hit two-run homers off Scherzer for their first career home runs.
Playing the final week was especially difficult on the Marlins, as they mourn the death of Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident on Sept. 25.
"I think guys did a great job of just continuing to play," manager Don Mattingly said. "I think it's kind of symbolic of this club. They've played hard all year. I'm really proud of them for the way they played and went about their business this year. As we just told the players, we feel like this is a stepping stone for things to come."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Scherzer completes Cy Young resume: Scherzer struggled through 96 pitches in five innings, but finished as one of the favorites to win the NL Cy Young Award this season, completing the year 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 284 strikeouts (the most in a single season by a right-hander since 2002). His 6.5 WAR entered Sunday leading all NL pitchers.
"I've just evolved as a pitcher as the season's gone on, just been able to do more with the baseball," Scherzer said. "I feel confident how I'm executing pitches right now. I know I didn't pitch well today. There were things. I just left the ball over the middle of the plate a couple times, and that burned me. And a couple walks also hurt. But I also like the shape of every pitch I'm throwing right now. I like where the curveball's at, the slider, the cutter, the changeup. I like how I can execute. So, going forward with everything on the line, it's going to be fun." More >
Yelich triples, falls short of 100 RBIs: The Marlins came back from three down in the fifth inning, and pulled even at 5 on Christian Yelich's RBI triple. Yelich represented the potential go-ahead run, but Miami was unable to drive him home with less than two outs. For the season, Yelich finished with 98 RBIs, two shy of reaching the century mark for the first time in his career. Entering the series, Yelich needed five RBIs to reach 100, and he drove in three, including belting a home run in the series opener on Friday night.
"He's obviously a really good hitter," Mattingly said. "He showed that with 21 homers this year, and driving in runs. I still think there is room for him to grow and keep getting better. He's 24 years old. This is another guy that is on the move with big league experience and proving now at this point that he's one of the best hitters in the game. His year has been outstanding."
Chance at the batting title:Daniel Murphy (strained buttocks) had not played in a game since Sept. 20, but he made a pinch-hit appearance in the fifth inning to a standing ovation at Nationals Park and with a chance to go ahead in the race for the NL batting title with a hit. However, Murphy flied out to right field and finished second to Colorado's DJ LeMahieu. After the game, Murphy said he had not given the batting title much thought, but revealed he was also available to pinch-hit Saturday, perhaps further indication that he will be ready to play once the postseason begins Friday. Running remains the issue to watch for Murphy, although Nationals' manager Dusty Baker has been confident the veteran will be ready for the postseason.
"We'll see more this week when he's at practice," Baker said. "Hitting is not the problem. We'll see how he responds in other facets of the game in our workouts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday." More >
A couple of two-run firsts: Two Marlins hitters who opened the season at Triple-A New Orleans collected their first MLB home runs. Both were two-run shots off Scherzer. Hood connected on an opposite-field shot in the fourth inning. Initially it was ruled an RBI triple before a crew-chief review confirmed the home run. And in the fifth inning, Telis belted a two-run drive to center.
"It didn't hit me, like, until a little bit later," said Hood, a former Nationals prospect. "That's the team that drafted me. Obviously Scherzer wasn't there yet. I just thought, 1-0. I was thinking, 'If I were in Triple-A, what would I do? I'd probably sell out to the fastball.' I sold out to the fastball."
"I was just thinking, I might just get punched in the face by [Tom Koehler]. I have to take it, because I'm in this spot. I had [Jeff] Mathis next to me, and he agreed. He knows T.K. more than anybody. So he told me, 'I think it's time to go to the bullpen.' I can't imagine how difficult it is for a manager to take out a guy in any situation." -- Marlins third baseman Martin Prado, who took on the role of ceremonial manager on Sunday, with Mathis as his bench coachMore >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Ichiro Suzuki capped his season with a pinch-hit single in the fifth inning. The hit was career No. 3,030 for the 42-year-old. Ichiro became the 30th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits this season. The Marlins have a club option to bring Ichiro back for 2017, and they are expected to exercise it sometime this week.
Scherzer collected the Nationals' first hit, a two-run single to center in the second inning. With runners on second and third, Scherzer singled up the middle, easily plating Wilmer Difo, and Espinosa raced home from second. Yelich's throw was on the mark, and Telis applied the tag. Espinosa was ruled safe, but the Marlins challenged. After a review of one minute and 23 seconds, the call was confirmed.
For Hood, it was unclear if his drive in the fourth cleared the high wall in right-center. After a crew-chief review, the call of triple was overturned to a home run. The review took 58 seconds.
The Nationals challenged an infield single credited to Hood with one out in the eighth inning. It was a bang-bang play at first, and after a review of one minute and 37 seconds, the ruling was that the call stands.
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: The Marlins head to the offseason after finishing at 79-82, third place in the NL East.
Nationals: The Nationals host the Dodgers for Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. Washington has yet to officially reveal its starter opposite Kershaw.