Major-league closers, like NFL kickers and the sanitation department, only draw your attention when something goes wrong. We just expect them to work flawlessly, and if everything goes according to plan, we don't even notice them.
Drew Storen, though, deserves our attention right now, because he has been just as responsible for the Nationals' prolonged, dominant stretch of baseball — Monday's 2-1 win over the Cubs was their 20th in their last 25 games — as anybody. Fourteen of these 20 victories have come by 3 or fewer runs, and Storen has been the last pitcher on the mound for the Nats in 12 of those games.
And in those 12 games, plus two more appearances he's made since the hot streak began April 28 in Atlanta, Storen hasn't allowed any opposing player to cross the plate. Not one.
That's 14 scoreless appearances totaling 13 1/3 innings. Storen has faced 48 batters during that time. Only eight have reached base (five hits, one walk, two hit batters). Seventeen, on the other hand, have struck out.
And it's not like Storen was struggling prior to that point, even though the Nationals as a whole were. For the season, he now sports an 0.93 ERA, having allowed only 13 hits and three walks over 19 1/3 innings while striking out 25. He has recorded an NL-best 14 saves in 15 tries.
Want even more evidence of Storen's dominance? He has given up one extra-base hit all season: a 1-out double to Grady Sizemore during Sunday's 4-1 win over the Phillies.
So, what exactly has made Storen so effective over the last seven weeks? Manager Matt Williams believes it's the fact he's using his full repertoire to perfection.
"I just think his secondary pitches have been crisp," Williams said Saturday while citing the previous evening's save against Philadelphia. "Last night's an example. He got [Ryan] Howard on breaking balls and change-ups, then he was able to elevate the fastball to [Odubel] Herrera to get him for the last out. That's a byproduct of him being able to throw the change-up for a strike and the slider for a strike and elevate the fastball when he needs to, especially against a left-handed hitter. I just think he's throwing it where he wants to."
Indeed, Storen's command has been excellent to date; he's throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes. But it's more than that. He's also throwing strikes that aren't hittable. A full 25.5 percent of his strikes have been swing-and-miss, the highest rate of his career and a full 10 percent better than the MLB average.
And Storen also has been very efficient. He hasn't thrown more than 20 pitches in any appearance this season, and he's averaging a mere 3.6 batters faced per inning (he's retired the side 12 times in 21 games).
Put that all together, and you've got one of the most dominant closers in baseball so far this season. Which, really, is just a continuation of 2014, when Storen led all NL relievers with a 1.12 ERA. Which, really, is just a continuation of the final two months of 2013, when Storen returned from a brief demotion to Class AAA Syracuse and regained his form.
In fact, take every MLB reliever who has thrown at least 30 innings since Aug. 16, 2013 (the day Storen was called back up to Washington) and nobody can match his 1.13 ERA.
Does he still need to prove he can get the job done in October after two notable blown saves? Of course. But that's a story for another day, well down the road.
Right now, Storen is near-perfect in the ninth inning. And because of that, the Nationals have been near-perfect for the last four weeks.