Nationals center fielder Victor Robles was on the 2017 National League Divisional Series roster and played in two games against the Cubs, scoring a run in Game 2 and going 0-for-1 with a strikeout in Game 5. But Tuesday’s National League wild card game against the Brewers will be his first postseason start.
“It’s the same game,” Robles said via team translator Octavio Martinez. “Trying to maintain and contain my excitement inside and not let it get to me. I got out there any way I can to help out the team. That’s what I’m here to do.”
His teammate Juan Soto will be making his postseason debut tomorrow night. The left fielder was pumped up after Sunday’s win over the Indians at the prospect of starting in his first playoff game. After a recent slump, Soto has delivered three hits in his last five games, including two doubles and two walks.
“I’m really excited, really happy. I’ve been working really hard the last couple days to get my timing back. And I think I feel really good. Today I took really good at-bats. I think we can get this.
“It’s like getting everything ready, everything set. Just keep it rolling, keep playing the same baseball. Get it done, every play.”
From the numbers the pair have put up at the plate - combining for 65 doubles, 51 homers and 175 RBIs - it’s important that they can be a factor on offense in the postseason. Shortstop Trea Turner believes the duo can get it done.
“I think they have been tested all year,” Turner said. “This year has been a battle. We’ve been in a hole and dug ourselves out of it and I think the pressure has kind of been on all year, even late down the stretch when we were pushing for the wild card and we had to win. So, I think they are ready.”
Manager Davey Martinez was asked if he felt the bright lights of a nationally televised audience and a soldout Nats Park would adversely impact Soto’s and Robles’ production. The skipper said they have done it all year, so Tuesday shouldn’t be any different.
“I’ve seen them step up in the limelight,” Martinez said. “I have. We’ve played some unbelievable games in New York, in Atlanta, and these guys have performed really well so I expect them to go out there and have fun.
“The biggest thing with the guys is to just go out there and have fun and be loose. There’s nobody looser than Victor Robles in our dugout. I can tell you that right now. Don’t be surprised if you see him dancing before the game. That’s who he is, that’s what he does. He loves it. He’s a guy that brings the energy every day. Him and Soto both, they bring that energy every day and it’s a lot of fun.”
Soto said playing in crucial games before huge crowds and delivering big hits gives him the confidence he can do that again tomorrow night.
“For me, I’m going to try to keep my emotions,” Soto said. “Try to play the game the right way and don’t try to do too much. Like I was in New York, don’t try to do too much. Just try to help my team the most I can.”
For the veterans on the club, like 36-year-old Howie Kendrick, the days of playing every day are gone. So watching Soto and Robles perform so well and learn so quickly, inspires his game.
“They’re really good, especially what they’ve been able to do at such a young age,” Kendrick said. “Vic with the defense, I think his bat is going to get even better. And then Juan, the poise that he has, the maturity for a young guy. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s only going to get better too.”
Their outfield defense could also play a major factor in beating the Brewers on Tuesday night.
That is a part of their game that Robles says he has worked on getting better at this season by giving full effort on every play. He admits maybe that wasn’t something he was doing at all times earlier on. Another Nationals veteran outfielder let him know he and Soto had immense untapped potential if they prepared like it every day.
“Through the course of the year I definitely know I got better,” Robles said. “I’ve always had the ability and I’ve known that. Most importantly, I believe when Gerardo Parra got here he told me ‘you are a Gold Glover, you need to keep working like it. With your ability there’s no way you shouldn’t be winning the Gold Glove. You just got to work at it.’ “
“He pretty much got me to stop being a little lazy, I guess, if we could say it that way, and keep working hard. Keep working at it every day. And I have been doing so and I’ve seen it. The ability has been there but now I see those results.”
Those results are plain to see. Robles leads Major League Baseball with 21 Outs Above Average (OAA), four better than the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier (17). Soto is on the list, tied for 15th, with seven.
Robles said Parra sat him and Soto down and told them about their potential to affect games with their defense.
“Through the course of the year we’ve both improved a lot,” Robles said. “Once Parra got here he pulled both of us aside and told both of us what we needed to do and basically helped us tremendously and get our focus on our defense and improve every day. He was a great addition to this team and great help for us. I’ve definitely seen both myself and Juan Soto improve throughout the course of the year defensively.”
Kendrick said when you see the strides that Soto and Robles have made this season with the bat and in the field, it is exciting to think about what the future holds for the young stars.
“The potential for those two players is unbelievable,” Kendrick said. “Having the opportunity to be around those guys and to try to help make an impact with those guys, it’s been special for me too. I get to talk to Juan quite a bit. I talk to Vic a lot. They’re still really young. So it’s going to be exciting when I’m sitting at home watching games this is definitely a team I’ll be watching for sure.”