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Scherzer on facing Kershaw in Game 1: 'This is what you play the game for'

Scherzer on facing Kershaw in Game 1: 'This is what you play the game for'

For as dominant as Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have been in their respective careers, baseball fans have yet to be treated to a high-stakes duel between the two at the height of their abilities.

In fact, the only time these hurlers started against each other was back in September of 2008 as rookies. In other words, before the Cy Young Awards, All-Star Game appearances, strikeout titles and, in Kershaw’s case, a National League MVP.

That all changes in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Scherzer and Kershaw, picked five selections apart in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, will finally square off again, this time as two unquestioned aces pitching during the time of the year it matters most.  

“It's what you play this game for,” Scherzer said. “You don't measure yourself against the worst; you measure yourself against the best. And I think this is best opponent I could possibly face with the Dodgers and Kershaw throwing.”

“I don't expect for it to be a blowout tomorrow by any means,” Kershaw added.

Look around the playoff field, and it would be tough to find a more compelling pitching matchup than this one. So on the eve of their biggest [duel] to date, both Game 1 starters took turns singing each other’s praises.

“Just a great competitor,” Kershaw said of his Nationals counterpart. “He had an amazing year this year. You know, if not the frontrunner to win the Cy Young, definitely in the top two or three. We know we've got our hands full.”

Indeed, Scherzer is coming off another Cy Young-caliber campaign, going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and an MLB-best 284 strikeouts. In his second season with the Nats, the 32-year-old right hander has proven to be the top-line starter the club needed when he signed a seven-year, $210 million contract before the 2015 season.

“It's what I envisioned when I drafted him way back in the day,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said. “He attacks. He's in attack mode. He's an aggressive pitcher. He's the guy that you want to give the ball to in the most crucial situations.”

Kershaw, meanwhile, was off to another historically great start before missing a large chunk of the year with a back injury. The 28-year-old lefty returned in September in time to make five starts, regaining his strength and finishing the regular season 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA and an impressive 172-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  

“You have go to up there and be ready to hit because you know he's not going to walk you,” first baseman Clint Robinson said. “You have to go up there and don't let him get away with mistakes. If he makes a mistake pitch, you have to be ready to get all over him and do damage. Because if not, the man has proven over the years to that if he's on, you're not going to hit him.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it in more simple terms. 

“I'd rather have nobody on the mound tomorrow than Clayton Kershaw,” he said.

Of course, the unpredictability of the postseason is always in play, so there’s a chance the low-scoring affair many expect may not come to fruition. Regardless, pitching matchups rarely get more hyped than this, and the Nats believe they have their man that can lead them deep into October against the opposition’s best.  

“This is something you always remember,” Scherzer said. “You want to be in these situations, because this is too much fun, to be able to go up and face a team and pitcher of this caliber.”

[MORE: NATIONALS ANNOUNCE PLAYOFF ROSTER FOR NLDS VS. DODGERS]

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Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound