Soto goes 3-for-3, continues to set records

September 23rd, 2021

MIAMI -- The box score Wednesday night was a snapshot of ’s season, one in which he is sparking National League Most Valuable Player Award chatter.

With one single, one double, one home run and two walks over five plate appearances in the Nationals’ 7-5 win over the Marlins at loanDepot park, power and patience have been the defining characteristics of Soto’s fourth season in the Major Leagues.

“He’s a player that’s having an unbelievable year,” said manager Dave Martinez after the series finale. “It’s the Most Valuable Player. It’s one player. For me, Juan should have consideration to be in that MVP [contention]. He’s had a phenomenal year.”

Soto continues to ride his post-All-Star break momentum late into September after shaking off a slow start to the season. He is slashing .372/.538/.678 (1.217 OPS) with 16 home runs, 48 RBIs and 72 walks in the second half. With that turnaround, he has put himself in the mix for the NL MVP Award, for which he placed fifth last year.

"It feels really good,” Soto said of the consideration. “After that slow start and then just coming from the bottom and coming all the way up, it feels great. ... We're going to see at the end of the day how it goes."

To appreciate Soto’s power at the plate, his discipline there should also be recognized. He drew his 130th walk of the season in the fifth inning on Wednesday, tying the Nationals’ single-season team record (2005-present) set by Bryce Harper in 2018. Soto has a commanding lead over second-place Joey Gallo (109).

What makes Soto’s walk rate even more remarkable is the production he still puts up at the plate. And while opponents have been pitching around him, the reigning National League batting title holder is in contention to win the award for his second consecutive season. He is batting .321 and is locked in a race with the Dodgers' Trea Turner (.318) and the Phillies' Bryce Harper (.314).

On Wednesday, Soto belted his 27th home run of 2021. It also was the 96th of his career. That total is good for the fifth most by a player before reaching the age of 23, behind only Mel Ott (115), Eddie Mathews (112), Tony Conigliaro (104) and Harper (97).

Yet when it comes to power, Soto hones in on the contact he makes on base hits more than on homers. Soto’s double in the first inning flew at an exit velocity of 116.5 mph, tracking as the second-hardest hit batted ball of his career by only 0.1 mph. He walloped a 116.6 mph standup double against the Blue Jays on Aug. 17.

“It just doesn't seem to matter much what you do with him,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “I don't know if I've ever seen a guy kind of continuously hit the ball as hard as this guy does ... as clean as he does. Even his outs in general, if he hits it, it's hit hard. … He's a guy who controls the strike zone, he's physical, [he’s] got a great swing -- all the things you want.”

Soto’s on-base percentage is so out of this world, too, that when he entered Wednesday with a .462 OBP, he could have made an out in his next 45 plate appearances and still maintained a lead over second-ranked Harper (.429).

Ultimately, Soto puts the most weight on his OPS. This season, he is on pace (1.010) to surpass his goal of 1.000.

“I’ve seen him now for three years do the same thing over and over, and he’s actually getting better, which is scary,” Martinez said. “He knows the balls he wants to swing at, he’s ready to hit them and when he gets them, he smokes them.”

The MVP and batting title races will play out over the final days of the regular season. But there is no question to Martinez about Soto’s place in the game.

“What he’s done and what he’s meant to this team,” said Martinez, “he carries this team day in and day out.”