Atlanta Strikeout Ace Spencer Strider Approaches Rare 20-Win Season

If Spencer Strider wins both of his final two starts, he’ll reach a goal few pitchers attain these days: 20 victories in a season.

After beating the Phillies, 9-3, Tuesday night, Strider is a perfect 8-0 in eight career starts against Philadelphia and 18-5 for the season. He not only leads both leagues in wins but also in strikeouts (270), six short of the Braves franchise mark owned by Hall of Famer John Smoltz since 1996.

“He’s a superstar, and he’s an incredible pitcher,” said Atlanta leadoff man Ronald Acuña, Jr., who had two home runs, a single, and a stolen base during the game at Truist Park. “I’m just glad he’s on our side.”

Should Strider win 20, he’d follow teammate Kyle Wright, whose 21 wins led the majors last year, and Julio Urias, who took 20 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021.

Prior to that, no National League pitcher was a 20-game winner since Max Scherzer in 2016. The American League has virtually given up on the 20-win warhorse. Nobody has done it since Houston aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole (now with the Yankees) in 2019. That’s four straight seasons of zeroes.

There are plenty of reasons for the void: pitch counts that typically top off at 100, five-man rotations, and bullpen-heavy rosters that allow managers to bring in fresh arms before starters face batting orders for the third time in the same game.

For a flame-thrower like Spencer Strider, however, baseball rules and history don’t necessarily apply. A rare vegan in a world of meat-eaters, Strider marches to a different drummer.

The soft-spoken Ohio native, who will turn 25 just before the 2023 World Series, Strider was drafted by the Braves in the fourth round – the fourth round – of the 2017 amateur draft and reached the majors as a relief pitcher four years later, when he picked up his first win.

When Atlanta needed a starter last year, it tried the hard-throwing right-hander, who responded with an 11-5 record, 2.67 earned run average, and 202 strikeouts in 176 innings. He averaged 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings – the same remarkable ratio that now leads the baseball world.

He broke Randy Johnson’s record as the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season and, a year later, Jacob deGrom’s mark as the fastest man to make it to 100.

He was runner-up to teammate Michael Harris II in voting for National League Rookie of the Year last year and an All-Star this year.

At 6-0 and 195 pounds, Strider hardly strikes an imposing image on the mound. But he has an unorthodox approach, standing with his feet in a perpendicular pose before throwing and then taking enormous strides – pardon the pun – toward home plate.

Mainly a fastball/slider pitcher who doesn’t share the curveball of teammates Charlie Morton and Max Fried, his changeup is a work in progress.

The first two he tried in the Tuesday game against the Phillies turned into hits, including a three-run Bryce Harper homer that accounted for all the scoring against him.

Strider helped himself by not walking anyone in the powerful Philadelphia lineup, although he did hit a batter.

Although Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos has signed all of his core position players to long-term contracts, Strider is the only pitcher who has accepted a multi-year extension from the team.

He received a six-year, $75 million contract last October the day before the Braves opened their National League Division Series against the Phillies. The pact contains a $22 million club option for 2029 with a $5 million buyout.

Considering Strider’s achievement, not to mention his potential, that is a team-friendly contract.

The pitcher will earn considerably more this fall, since the Braves have already clinched their sixth straight National League East division crown and are favored to win their second world championship in three seasons. The longer they last, the more money participants will share.

On a team that could lose lefty Max Fried to free agency after next season, Strider is an emerging ace. He already has an admiring fan base, who wear imitations of his black mustache to games as well as his No. 99 jersey, a tribute to “Wild Thing” in the baseball movie Major League.

In the dozen regular-season games that remain, the Braves seek to retain home-field advantage throughout the post-season. With 97 wins, most in the majors entering play Wednesday, and seven games remaining against last-place Washington, they have a good chance to realize that goal.

Spencer Strider can help.

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