Only 13 major leaguers besides Kluber and Scherzer worked at least 200 innings this season. With so many power arms in the bullpen, Kluber said, he understands why teams de-emphasize starters.
“There’s so many good relief pitchers who have the ability to go out there and dominate that managers are just trying to do what they feel is the best to help win the game,” Kluber said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily the starting pitcher; to me, it’s more so that they feel like the relievers are so good, and I agree with that.”
Scherzer largely did, too, but he said he still believes the ideal innings range for a top starter is 200 to 230. He said starters must concentrate on developing enough quality pitches so they have different ways to attack the same hitters three or four times in a game.
“I’ve always been a big believer that, even if it’s only once a month, you do need to really tax your pitch count to an extreme level — to 120, really push it,” he said, “because sometimes you learn more about yourself as a pitcher in the pitches after 100 than you do the first 100.”
Kluber and Scherzer could not carry their durability into October. They both lost the decisive fifth game of a division series, at home, to end their season — Kluber as a starter, Scherzer in relief. Both had finished September with injuries that altered their postseason plans.
The Indians bumped Kluber to Game 2 of their series with the Yankees, and although they were vague about his health, his performance was alarming: a 12.69 E.R.A. in two starts, including four home runs. Kluber had back trouble early in the season, and Indians Manager Terry Francona acknowledged after Game 5 that Kluber had been “fighting a lot” of physical issues.
Likewise, the Nationals could not use Scherzer to open their division series with the Chicago Cubs. He hurt his hamstring in his final start of the regular season, but pitched six and one-third no-hit innings in Game 3 at Wrigley Field.
Yet because of the hamstring, the Nationals had planned to keep Scherzer at around 100 pitches and pulled him after he gave up a double with his 98th pitch. They lost that game, won Game 4 and handed Scherzer a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning of Game 5, on two days’ rest. After two quick outs, he allowed four runs (two earned) that put the Cubs ahead to stay.
It was another frustrating finish for the Nationals, who have won the N.L. East in four of the last six seasons without advancing in the playoffs. They fired Manager Dusty Baker after the season and replaced him with Dave Martinez, who had been the bench coach for the Cubs.
Scherzer said he could not watch baseball for 10 days after the loss.
“That will eat at me for this whole off-season,” he said. “Look, I ain’t trying to take anything away from the Cubs; they played their hearts out, they deserved to win. I just know that we have the talent to be able to beat them. Sometimes baseball is a funny game, and they won. I just want to beat them next year.”
The Cubs fell in the next round to the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose ace, Clayton Kershaw, finished second to Scherzer in the voting. Despite missing more than five weeks this summer with back problems, Kershaw went 18-4 with a 2.31 E.R.A., the best in the N.L. A three-time Cy Young Award winner, he has now finished in the top five in each of the last seven seasons.
The A.L. runner-up, Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox, went 17-8 with a 2.90 E.R.A. and 308 strikeouts this season, the most in the majors in 15 years. But Sale had a sluggish finish, with a 4.09 E.R.A. in August and September, months in which Kluber’s E.R.A. was 1.42.
Sale now has five consecutive top-five finishes without winning the award — a quirky feat also accomplished by the Dodgers’ Don Sutton in the N.L. from 1972-76. Sutton never appeared on a Cy Young ballot again, but he pitched 12 more seasons and went on to the Hall of Fame.
Sale, 29, worked the most innings in the majors this season, with 214⅓. But just like Kluber and Scherzer, he ended his year with a thud. After losing his start in Game 1 of a division series in Houston, Sale lost again in relief, at home, to end Boston’s season.
The Yankees’ Luis Severino finished third in the A.L. voting. The Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg finished third in the N.L., with the Mets’ Jacob deGrom placing eighth with two fifth-place votes.