There isn't a person in baseball that would call the Nationals' pitching staff a group of strikeout artists. The team is tied for 21st in baseball with 1043 strikeouts this year, and no pitcher on the team has more than Livan Hernandez's 113.
But during the Nationals' final homestand of the year - which is also shaping up to be one of their best - something funny has happened: Their pitchers are fanning batters left and right.
In their last eight games, the Nationals' pitchers have struck out 63 batters, getting 14 strikeouts in an 8-3 win over the Braves last week and 11 in a 2-1 win over the Phillies last night. The staff as a whole has a 3.25 ERA during that stretch.
For the season, the Nationals average 6.73 strikeouts per nine innings, and are tied for the sixth-lowest swinging strike percentage in baseball (8.1%). It's a pitch-to-contact staff that generates more contact than most teams in baseball (its 81.4% contact rate is tied for ninth).
But lately, the Nationals have been missing bats. Jason Marquis alone has 21 swinging strikes in his last two starts. Jordan Zimmermann, the one pitcher in the Nationals' rotation with true swing-and-miss capabilities, had five strikeouts in five innings his last time out. And Tyler Clippard, whose 13.5% swinging strike rate is 11th-best among major league relievers, has 10 strikeouts in six innings of work during the last eight games.
It's not likely to last with this staff, but it's a good sign for the Nationals when sinkerball pitchers like Marquis and John Lannan are able to get a few strikeouts, and Clippard has looked as good in the last week as he has all season.
And not coincidentally, it's led to fewer runs, and more wins.