The Washington Nationals walked away with a four-game sweep of the Houston Astros on Thursday evening but shutting them out 5-0. Now, you might say that isn't all that hard, as the Astros have lost 34 of their last 38 games and are 41 games below .500 on the season. But beating the teams you're supposed to is sometimes harder than it seems.
In the series before the Nats arrived in town, the Astros were in Atlanta playing the Braves for a three-game set. The Braves weren't able to sweep the Astros, but won two of the three. It's hard to sweep series, and even harder to sweep four-gamers, but the Nats did what they were supposed to behind some resilient play and even more impressive pitching by Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Gio Gonzalez.
On Thursday, Zimmermann showed why he is getting national attention as a candidate, perhaps a leading one, for the National League Cy Young Award. After that game, he has the NL-best 169 adjusted ERA (ERA+), the second-best 2.35 ERA, the second-best 4.4 WAR, and the fifth-best 1.060 WHIP, and he's playing for the team with the best record in the major leagues by three games. Zimmermann continues to be the Nats most consistent pitcher with his electric stuff and remarkable command.
Detwiler has been insanely great in his own right in the last 30 days. He's gone at least seven innings in four of his last five starts while never eclipsing the 100 pitch mark. He's seen his ERA drop from 3.15 to 2.99 during that period, and he sports a 1.177 WHIP. He's pounded the strike zone with fastballs and has been the best fifth starter in the game this season. Not to be left out, Gonzalez just pitched a complete game where he gave up three runs, earned the win, and saved an exhausted bullpen a night of work.
This team's pitching is it's key to late-season, and hopefully post-season, success. This isn't breaking news, everyone's known it for a while, but when people make such a big deal about innings limits, it's sometimes hard to remember the pitching goes way beyond just Stephen Strasburg. This pitching staff is really great, not just good. Sure, the Nats were playing the terrible Astros, and the squeaked away with a few of those wins, but it wasn't the fault of the pitching, and a win is a win if it's by one run or by ten runs. Furthermore, It's not like the pitching just got good in Houston. It's been good all year, but this series was an exclamation point. With their 4.5-game lead on the NL East, five-game winning streak, and MLB-best 69-43 record, they're not going anywhere.
The pitching has been great, and let's give a shout out to the defense as well. The team has been laying down some leather behind their pitchers, especially in the infield. One of the reasons I'm sure J-Zimm is usually content to pitch to contact rather than try to blow batters away is he knows most of those ground balls will be scooped up and thrown to first. Yes, their offense is merely average at best, but that's all it has to be.