Dodgers aren’t in first? Max Scherzer wants to help them change that
The Dodgers are the defending World Series champions. They were the favorites to win the National League West from Day 1 of spring training, according to Las Vegas odds and sabermetric projections, and they remain the favorites today.
On his first day as a member of the home team at Dodger Stadium, then, it was little wonder that Max Scherzer got caught up in the local and national wave of expectations and assumptions.
“The Dodgers are in first place,” Scherzer said Tuesday in his introductory Zoom conference, “but there’s work to be done, and that’s why I’m excited to be here, to go out there and try to win.”
In fact, the Dodgers have not been in first place since April 28. As Scherzer spoke, the Dodgers trailed the San Francisco Giants by 3½ games, their largest deficit since June 27.
But that is why he is here. The Dodgers had no intention of wasting the roster with the sport’s highest payroll. Instead, they improved it, acquiring Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals.
With Turner joining Max Muncy and Chris Taylor, the Dodgers have the top three National League active position players in WAR, according to FanGraphs. Scherzer, like Clayton Kershaw, is a three-time Cy Young Award winner.
Houston visits Dodger Stadium on Tuesday for the first time with fans in the stands since the Astros’ cheating scandal in the 2017 World Series came to light.
Turner remains in COVID protocol; the Dodgers hope he can join their team this weekend. Scherzer is scheduled to make his Dodgers debut Wednesday, against the Houston Astros.
Scherzer, speaking before an expected civic catharsis of boos and jeers for the Astros, said he would not presume to tell Dodgers fans how to behave. The 2017 Dodgers might have lost a World Series to an Astros team that cheated, but Scherzer did not have that experience.
“In Washington, fortunately,” Scherzer said, “we were able to win the  World Series against them. … It’s tough for me to speak how Dodger fans should feel and how I would feel if I was on the other side.”
Once Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told Scherzer the team needed to retool its roster, Scherzer decided he would prefer to waive his no-trade clause if he could go to a National League team — and, even better, a warm-weather team. He said the NL preference reflected his familiarity with the league’s current hitters, not an inclination to stay away from American League teams in free agency this fall.
“That would be obviously different, if that happens,” he said.
The Dodgers, of course, could re-sign Scherzer. The Trevor Bauer-sized hole that Scherzer was acquired to fill could extend beyond this season.
Scherzer said he had provided the Nationals with a list of teams to which he would accept a trade but declined to say if trade talks had proceeded far enough that he had been asked to waive his no-trade clause for any team besides the Dodgers.
On the day before the Nationals and Dodgers finalized their trade, social media was abuzz with reports that Scherzer would be heading to the San Diego Padres. Scherzer said he did not put too much stock into those reports because he had not heard from Rizzo.
“The fact that Twitter was going off, and I hadn’t gotten a phone call, I knew something else was probably still in the weeds,” Scherzer said. “That’s what it is. You can’t always fall for Twitter. But Twitter is usually pretty good.”
Scherzer said he was proud of his time with the Nationals.
“Flags fly forever,” he said. “You know that everybody’s time in DC, everybody’s hard work, is a banner there. It’s something that we’ll always remember. I’m so happy I was a part of it.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we play the game for, to win the World Series. We accomplished that goal.”
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In the last four years, the Nationals represented the NL in the World Series once, the Dodgers the other three times.
“This is an extremely talented group,” Scherzer said. “I’ve gotten a chance to compete against them over the years and I realize what they can bring, what this organization has done over the past four years, and obviously what they’re capable of doing this year. It’s fun to join these guys because we have a great chance to win, but it’s going take just a lot of work to be able to get there. Nothing’s assured yet.”
Except, that is, the bear hug that is a new staple of the Dodgers clubhouse.
“That was pretty cool coming in,” Scherzer said, “and being able to give Albert Pujols a hug.”
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