WASHINGTON -- Often after Nationals manager Dusty Baker finished campaigning for Max Scherzer, he would joke that his reasons were selfish. Although he had managed a number of award winners through his career, Baker has never had a pitcher win the Cy Young Award. But the praise for Scherzer was usually well-deserved after a dominant 2016 has provided him a strong case to win it.
Scherzer has the opportunity to join some rare company when the National League Cy Young Award is presented Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network. Scherzer, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2013, could become the sixth pitcher to win it in both leagues, joining Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay. Scherzer is one of the three NL finalists, along with the Cubs' Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester.
Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.
If Scherzer wins the Cy Young Award, it will largely be because of his ability to miss bats. He led the Majors in strikeouts with 284, including his historic performance May 11 when he tied a Major League record by striking out 20 against the Tigers. Scherzer struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings, ranking third in the NL behind Robbie Ray and Jose Fernandez, but he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio at 5.07.
Scherzer's strikeout rate of 31.5 percent marked the second consecutive year he posted a rate above 30 percent, making him only the fifth right-hander in history to do so in multiple years. Pedro Martinez did it four times, while Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling and Kerry Wood all did it twice.
As Scherzer once said, the strikeouts are sexy, but he also led the NL with 20 wins and a 0.97 WHIP. He became the eighth pitcher to pace his league in all three of those categories, and each one of those previous performances resulted in a Cy Young Award-winning season. Scherzer also led the NL in innings at 228 1/3, shouldering a heavy workload for a team that won the NL East.
Both Hendricks (2.13) and Lester (2.44) posted superior ERAs to Scherzer (2.96). However, they both had the benefit of the Cubs' strong defense playing behind them. Chicago led the Majors with 82 defensive runs saved compared to Washington, which posted -15 defensive runs saved. Despite that edge, Scherzer led the NL in wins above replacement for pitchers at 6.2, according to Baseball Reference, compared to 5.3 for Lester and 5.0 for Hendricks.
With that being said, Scherzer has a strong case to become the 18th pitcher to win multiple Cy Young Awards and the first to win one in a Nats uniform.
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.