The Washington Nationals have been a worse than average slugging team this season, but that's started to change in late August.
It could be bad news for the Miami Marlins' Brad Hand, who's also going up against an in-form Stephen Strasburg Sunday at Nationals Park.
Washington (65-63) posted a .392 slugging percentage and 0.99 home runs per game through Aug. 20, which respectively ranked 17th and tied for 12th in the majors. Over the last eight games, however, those numbers are up to .502 and 1.88.
In Saturday's 5-1 win over the Marlins (52-78), Ryan Zimmerman, Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond went deep for the Nationals' seventh multihomer game in their last eight. Zimmerman has three home runs and 11 RBIs in his last six, and Desmond has left the yard in consecutive contests.
"We've been hitting the ball better lately," Zimmerman told MLB's official website. "(Tom Koehler) threw well for the first five innings or so and didn't make any mistakes. He finally left some balls over the plate and we put some good swings on them."
The Nationals, who trail the New York Mets by 5 1/2 games in the NL East, have won five of seven overall and 13 of the last 20 meetings with Miami.
The Marlins, meanwhile, are batting .206 with five homers and 2.0 runs per game over a 2-7 span. In their last nine, J.T. Realmuto is batting .074 and Adeiny Hechavarria .143.
Strasburg (8-6, 4.14 ERA) has had an impressive month, going 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA and .156 opponent batting average in four starts since coming off the disabled list after missing more than a month with an oblique strain. The right-hander has been particularly tough with four hits allowed in 13 innings over his past two outings.
"Health is a big key," manager Matt Williams said after Strasburg held San Diego to two runs and two hits over six innings of Tuesday's 8-3 win. "If he feels good when he's out there then he's able to let it go. I don't know how many balls he threw that were 98 miles per hour tonight, but quite a few of them. He sat 95 to 97. That just means he feels good."
He hasn't fared as well against Miami this season, losing both of his starts with a 6.00 ERA. Marcell Ozuna is 7 for 17 against Strasburg, but Hechavarria (3 for 24) and Christian Yelich (3 for 19) have struggled.
Hand (4-3, 4.23) has also won consecutive starts, and the latest was the longest of his career. He gave up two runs and nine hits in eight innings of Tuesday's 5-2 home win over Pittsburgh.
Since re-entering the rotation on Aug. 4, the left-hander is 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA.
"He's still a young pitcher," manager Dan Jennings said. "He's filled multiple roles. He's come out of the bullpen as a lefty-lefty guy, situational. He's come out of the bullpen long. Now he's getting the opportunity to start. He's made the most of it of late."
Hand hasn't faced Washington yet this season but is 0-5 with an 8.19 ERA in seven career starts in the series. Zimmerman is 6 for 8 with four doubles, and Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon are both 5 for 11.
Yelich (bruised right knee) has missed three straight games, while Washington's Michael Taylor (bruised right knee) and Yunel Escobar (right hand) have been held out of the starting lineup for two.