WASHINGTON -- If you're a Chicago Cubs fan waiting for this championship drought to end, the question must have crossed your mind during Monday's 4-1 loss to Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals: What happens if a hurler -- maybe Scherzer himself -- pitches like Scherzer did on Monday, but it's October and the playoffs, instead of early June?
"In order to win in the playoffs you have to beat good pitching," catcher Miguel Montero said after the loss.
That's one of the oldest clichés in baseball but it still rings true. See last year's National League Championship Series for evidence. Montero didn't deny that Scherzer -- and two Nationals relievers -- may have thrown the best game against the Cubs this season. The final tally for him was seven innings, two hits, one run and 11 strikeouts, including nine of the first 10 batters. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked what he was thinking at that moment.
"That he may strikeout 20," Maddon quipped. "He had his A-game going on tonight. You could have brought Sandy Koufax in at that point and it may have looked better."
Scherzer actually has a 20-strikeout game this year and eventually the Cubs made some contact, but not enough. This is the fear in the playoffs: Nasty pitching within the strike zone. The Cubs saw it against the Mets and occasionally have seen it this year. Overall, on Monday, the Cubs struck out 16 times against the Nationals without earning a walk. It was the fourth time they failed to get a free pass this season and they're 2-2 in such games. This one was a lot different than an early May game at Wrigley Field when the Cubs homered four times off of Scherzer.
"That probably stuck in his craw a bit," Maddon said. "He's just good. He's capable of that game at any time."
Whether or not it was revenge that drove him, there's no doubting the motivation for Scherzer or any opponent in the postseason. Winning is all that matters. So are the Cubs susceptible to a certain type of pitcher? The answer is probably no. They're just susceptible to a great performance like any team would be. The Cubs are .500 when failing to earn a walk, but entering Monday the rest of baseball was 43-88. Of course that includes some bad teams, but the point is if Scherzer pitches like he just did it won't matter who the opponent is.
"You're dealing with arguably the best team in baseball right there," Addison Russell said praising the Nationals. "Guys that come in every day wanting to win and they have the bats and arms to prove it."
Russell was actually the guy that got to Scherzer, breaking up his perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with one swing. It came at the end of easily the best battle of the evening at the plate by a Cub. Nine pitches into it, Russell went deep to left, but that's all the Cubs would get off the righty. Maddon knows October will bring similar outings.
"A lot of pitching," he stated. "That's what we saw last year."
So what is the answer if a pitcher comes up with a performance like Scherzer did on Monday night? It's simple: Hope it doesn't happen three more times in a series.