The champs are here: Nats, Scherzer set to open title defense vs. Cole, Yankees

washington nationalsYou can’t ask for a bigger stage. The Washington Nationals open the defense of their world title Thursday against the New York Yankees, and their new ace, Gerrit Cole.

Remember him?

Last time Cole was in Nats Park, last October, he was pitching the Houston Astros to a 7-1 win in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, to give the ‘Stros a 3-2 lead on their way back to Texas.

Cole had been scheduled to face off with Max Scherzer, who will get the ball for the Nats tomorrow night in the delayed 2020 season opener, but Scherzer had famously awakened with a stiff neck, though Mad Max would be back out there for Game 7, keeping his team in the game long enough to allow the bats to rally in the late innings.

You might recall that Cole was warming up in the pen as Washington rallied, but Houston manager A.J. Hinch never called his name as the Nationals closed out the 6-2 Series-clinching win.

Cole (20-5, 1.50 ERA in 2019) ended up signing with the Yankees in the offseason, inking a nine-year, $324 million deal to become the ace of baseball’s most storied franchise.

Fate in the form of the pandemic brings him back to Washington to get his New York career under way.

Cole was masterful in that Game 5 win, giving up a run on three hits in seven innings, striking out nine and walking one, after getting lit up a bit in a Game 1 loss in which the Nats got to him for five runs on eight hits in seven innings of work.

The consensus of the five projections for 2020 on FanGraphs has Cole in line to go 6-3 across either 12 or 13 starts for the Yankees this year.

A four-pitch pitcher, Cole works off his devastating high fastball, which he throws more than half the time, and last year had a career-best 97.4 mph average velocity.

His slider (89.5 mph in 2019) and change (88.9 mph) are complemented by a sweeping curve (82.8 mph) that seems to fall off the table.

Nats vs. Cole

  • Starlin Castro: 6-for-17, 4 RBI, 4K
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: 2-for-17, 3 RBI, 6K
  • Eric Thames: 2-for-14, 1 HR, 2 RBI
  • Howie Kendrick: 2-for-9, 3 RBI, 1 2B
  • Michael A. Taylor: 1-for-6, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • Trea Turner: 2-for-5, 1 BB, 1K
  • Adam Eaton: 1-for-5, 1 BB, 2K

Max Scherzer takes the hill

Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA in 2019) got touched up a bit in his final preseason start, giving up seven earned runs in five innings of work in a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

The velo was there – his fastball was sitting 92-94 mph, and he hit 96 on a couple of occasions – but he gave up a couple of bombs, one to Didi Gregorius, one to Bryce Harper, that one going 445 feet.

The FanGraphs projections have him going either 5-2 or 5-3 in 10 or 11 starts for the Nats in 2020.

Yankees vs. Scherzer

  • Giancarlo Stanton: 4-for-18, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 9K
  • Brett Gardner: 3-for-16, 5K
  • Chris Iannetta: 4-for-14, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 8K
  • Aaron Hicks: 0-for-10, 4K
  • Luke Voit: 1-for-1

Story by Chris Graham


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