WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer was so sharp Monday, it was easy to imagine him throwing another no-hitter. Or striking out 20 again. Or both.
The right-hander retired the first 16 batters he faced and threw seven innings of two-hit ball, striking out 11 in a pitching masterpiece that carried the Nationals past the Cubs 4-1.
As his ace mowed down hitters, manager Dusty Baker began to wonder if Scherzer was on his way to something historic.
"If he's done it once, you know he can do it again," Baker said. "You allow yourself to think it. … He just made one mistake."
Scherzer's bid for his third career no-hitter ended with one out in the sixth when Addison Russell hit a 3-2 pitch into the leftfield seats. The only other batter to reach against Scherzer was Anthony Rizzo, who doubled in the seventh.
Facing the team with the best record in the majors, Scherzer became the 26th pitcher ever to have 40 games with at least 10 strikeouts.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked what he was thinking after Scherzer zipped through three innings with eight strikeouts.
"That he may strike out 20," Maddon replied. "He had such good stuff and he was throwing it exactly where he wanted."
Scherzer had an inkling he was going to be on-target as soon as he walked to the mound.
"Body felt good, it was a nice warm day, perfect pitching conditions," he said.