WASHINGTON -- When asked Thursday about the challenge of opposing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in a postseason game, Max Scherzer replied that "this is too much fun, to face a team and pitcher of this caliber." When asked about the types of left-handed hitters the Dodgers have in spades, Scherzer answered that "it should be fun to face them." When the questions turned to Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton, Scherzer responded that it's "very fun" to throw to him.
So it came as little surprise that, when asked about starting National League Division Series Game 1 against the Dodgers (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1), Scherzer stuck to the script: "This is going to be fun."
If that attitude seems a bit saccharine for the Nationals' best pitcher, consider the alternative of harping on the past. While Scherzer has pitched in a dozen prior postseason games, his October history is fraught with disappointment. Though Scherzer played a significant role in knocking the Yankees out of the 2011 ALDS, he was the losing pitcher later that month in Detroit's final American League Championship Series game. The following October, Scherzer's Tigers made it to the World Series, where the Giants swept them. Scherzer pitched Game 4.
The next two seasons brought more of the same. A 2013 ALCS loss to the Red Sox, with Scherzer losing Detroit's final game. A '14 ALDS loss to the Orioles, with Scherzer dropping Game 1. Then nothing in '15, when the Nationals missed the postseason during Scherzer's first year in Washington.
It's not as if the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner has pitched poorly in his postseason career. To the contrary, he is 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA over 10 starts and two relief appearances, striking out 80 batters in 62 2/3 innings. It's just that overall, one of this generation's best pitchers has yet to experience the pinnacle of October success.
This month, Scherzer can rewrite everything not only for himself, but also for a Nationals club boasting World Series aspirations. Dwelling on the not-so-fun won't help him do it.
"I've had heartbreak four times," Scherzer said, "and it's pretty painful in the offseason when you don't win. So I don't know, you just choose how you want to live your life. Look, I haven't won a World Series, but I love being in these situations. I can't wait to get out there for Game 1 and compete, because I know I love to play baseball and I love to play baseball in the postseason."
Games such as Friday are why the Nationals signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract two winters ago. Situations like this are why they need him now more than ever. Particularly with Stephen Strasburg unavailable in the NLDS, the Nats are relying on Scherzer to provide a one-game example of what he did all season, leading the NL with 20 wins, 228 1/3 innings, 284 strikeouts and a 0.97 WHIP. After finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting last season, Scherzer is a favorite to win the award this year.
The scouting report on him is simple, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said: "He's going to throw his fastball, changeup, curveball, slider, and not in any order. He's got a fastball with late life and three quality offspeed pitches."
Executing against that repertoire is the difficult part. The Nationals know it and Scherzer does too, which is why he was their clear choice to start Game 1 opposite Kershaw.
"You've got a 20-game winner and you have a bulldog on the mound, and a guy that's risen to the occasion and been in this situation before," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We have an equally tough competitor on the other side, and so it should be a heck of a ballgame. But it's great to have Max Scherzer on your side and also a healthy Max Scherzer. He wants the ball. Max wants the ball, especially in big games."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.