MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals

Date/Time: September 18, 7:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Jose Fernandez (5-0, 2.06) vs. Max Scherzer (12-11, 2.91)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Washington -150

Total: 6.5

We don’t get many totals of 6.5 outside of extreme pitcher’s parks, but this NL East showdown in D.C. has one posted. The pitching matchup of Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer is certainly worth the price of admission. The market has been coming in on Scherzer and the Nationals for this excellent duel involving two of the league’s best. Neither team has postseason hopes, but these are the games that get the competitive juices flowing.

Given what has happened with the Miami Marlins this season, it’s a surprise that they have won 64 games. Penny-pinching owner Jeffrey Loria forced Mike Redmond out as manager and then appointed GM Dan Jennings as the manager because he didn’t want to pay a third manager while paying fired skippers Redmond and Ozzie Guillen. Giancarlo Stanton has been limited to 74 games and Marcell Ozuna spent most of the year in Triple-A. The Nationals were supposed to be a powerhouse, projected to win about 95 games by season win totals. With 16 games to play, Washington is eight games out in the division and 10 games out in the wild card.

Jose Fernandez returned from Tommy John and then had a shoulder-related setback, but he’ll be on the mound in this one. This will be his second start back from that second disabled list stint and second straight start against Washington. He struck out seven over five outstanding innings while on a pitch count. He threw 69 pitches last start, so expect him to be kept around 75 or 80 in this one. That’s something that you absolutely have to keep in mind. Hopefully the Marlins are more forthcoming about it than Terry Francona, who said there was no pitch count on Corey Kluber on Thursday, but he was pulled early and the bullpen imploded.

Fernandez came back from Tommy John surgery throwing a couple ticks harder and the stuff seems to be completely in tact. He’s gone to the slider and changeup more this season at the expense of his curveball, per Pitch Info Solutions, which may be part of some post-operation suggestions. PITCHf/x grades the slider/curve as a straight curveball, so it depends on which resource you use. Whatever the case may be, Fernandez is still striking out over 30 percent of opposing batters with a quality walk rate. His command is still a little bit of a work in progress with a high line drive rate, but the stuff is so good that he’s not allowing many home runs.

Is Max Scherzer’s second-half struggle just sequencing and bad luck or is there truly something wrong? The stuff is still explosive, as Scherzer has 81 strikeouts in 66 innings, but he had a 2.11 ERA with a .183/.214/.299 slash in the first half and he has a 4.50 with a .272/.313/.506 in the second half. Scherzer has allowed 14 home runs in 66 innings pitched in the second half as his command has inexplicably disappeared. Personally, I wouldn’t be worried because a 19.2 percent HR/FB is pretty unsustainable for a  guy with his stuff. It seems to just be “one of those things”. His velocity is still good and the PITCHf/x movement data on his pitches shows no dramatic changes from his past seasons. It’s just fastball command right now.

Scherzer mowed through a poor Marlins lineup in his last start with eight shutout innings. The Marlins are the worst offense in baseball against right-handed pitching, so that should benefit Scherzer in this start. Scherzer has been visibly frustrated on the mound and has had no explanation for the media. He probably feels as responsible for Washington’s collapse as anybody and those things can snowball with guys that have the intensity level of Scherzer. He still has a 2.91 ERA with a 2.86 FIP and a 3.02 xFIP and the potential to go out and be dominant on any given night.

MLB Prediction: Washington Nationals

I hate picking against Jose Fernandez, who I think is the second-best pitcher in baseball when he’s fully healthy, but the pitch count is something I simply cannot overlook. The Marlins bullpen will be tasked with keeping the team in the game while Scherzer keeps throwing bullets past the Marlins hitters. At least the first five innings of this game should be really exciting.