MLB: Max Scherzer’s too good for Jon Lester, Red Sox

Saturday, May 17, 2014  Whether Jon Lester likes it or not, he’s going to be judged against one pitcher this season — Max Scherzer.

Lester and Scherzer project to be the best free agent starters on the market, and they’ve both already been defined by the offers they rejected — for very different reasons — from their current teams.

Scherzer reportedly said no thanks to $144 million over six years from the Tigers, who responded in spring training by issuing a petulant press release declaring the end of negotiations.

The next day, Lester told reporters in Fort Myers he’d have a hard time turning down a similar offer. The problem is, he may have an even harder time landing one of that nature from the Red Sox, who opened negotiations with a four-year, $70 million proposal that Lester’s camp understandably shot down.

The resulting press has portrayed Scherzer as somewhat of a mercenary, and Lester as the loyal soldier whose loyalty could be used against him in negotiations.

Last night, they were just two guys going at it at Fenway Park, and they did not disappoint. Neither left the game after a 47-minute rain delay, and neither gave the opposition much of anything to hit.

Scherzer was just a little better in Detroit’s 1-0 victory, improving to 6-1, while Lester fell to 4-5 — but the reality is they’re not that far apart.

“I don’t look at it as two possible free agents going after each other,” Lester said. “That’s neither here nor there. We’re trying to compete and win for the Red Sox, and win for the Tigers. That’s the last thing from my mind right now.”

The two pitchers did their parts. Lester allowed one run in five innings, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out seven. Scherzer did him just one better, tossing six shutout innings and surrendering three hits and four walks, also with seven strikeouts.

Remove the win-loss, and their season stats are in the same ballpark. Scherzer owns a league-leading 1.83 ERA and 73 strikeouts with 20 walks in 59 innings. Lester has a 2.67 ERA, 73 strikeouts, and only 16 walks in 602⁄3 innings.

He’s also getting used to matching up against opposing aces. Last month, he outdueled Chris Sale of the White Sox, 3-1.

“I enjoy these matchups a lot more when we win,” Lester said. “Obviously, we’ve had a couple of these this year. I was fortunate to be on the other side of the one in Chicago. It’s fun. As a pitcher, you’ve got to enjoy playing the cat-mouse game with their hitters and watching their guy work, too.

“That’s something more for tomorrow, really kind of sit down and appreciate what (Scherzer) did and what he’s done. While you’re going through it, it’s a struggle, it’s a battle. You’re trying to win, you’re trying to outdo him. He was able to not give up any tonight and get the ‘W’. That always makes everything a lot better.”

The only difference between the two last night was the start. Lester allowed a run in the first when Ian Kinsler ripped a single off the glove of drawn-in third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Miguel Cabrera walked. Torii Hunter’s RBI single made it 1-0 and that was it. The Red Sox are now just 10-12 at Fenway.

“I didn’t think one run was going to stand up tonight,” Lester said, “but it did.”

Scherzer, meanwhile, was just a little better. He didn’t allow a hit until David Ortiz’ single with two outs in the fourth. He got key outs when he needed them, whether it was a strikeout of Mike Carp with two on in the fourth, or a Grady Sizemore double play with two on in the sixth.

“It’s a great win, especially against a team like that,” Scherzer said. “I didn’t pitch my best, but when runners were on base and I needed big pitches, I made big pitches. That’s the difference in the game.”

The paths of Lester and Scherzer should remain intertwined right into free agency, when they will once again stand front and center.

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