The Nationals have never had a batting champion since arriving in D.C. in 2005. They’ve had one player lead the National League in OPS.
With four days to go in the 2020 season, they might just wind up with their first player who did both.
Thanks to a strong couple of games to wrap up their just-completed series with the Phillies, Juan Soto heads into the season’s final series against the Mets leading the NL in a host of offensive categories.
Soto is batting .352, tops in the NL. His.486 on-base percentage and .703 slugging percentage also lead the league. As does his 1.190 OPS. Not a bad place to reside on a bunch of leaderboards.
Under normal circumstances, Soto would seem to be a shoo-in for NL MVP honors. Or at least to be the frontrunner for the award. But his name hasn’t come up much in these discussions recently, certainly not as much as Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Freddie Freeman.
Some of that probably has to do with the Nationals’ 27-33 record, leaving them in last place in the NL East. Though voter attitudes about selecting players from losing teams have changed dramatically over the years, the MVP still tends to come from a contender the vast majority of the time.
But Soto is also hurt by the fact he missed the season’s first week-plus after what he believed was a false positive test for COVID-19. While Betts, Tatis Jr., Machado, Freeman and other top MVP contenders have all played 50-plus games, Soto has played in only 43 to date and won’t surpass 47 by season’s end. (He still qualifies for league leaderboards, having accrued the minimum 3.1 plate appearances per team game required by Major League Baseball.)
If he ends up not receiving the same MVP consideration as those who played in more games, will Soto be bitter about the way his season began, stuck in quarantine despite having no symptoms of COVID-19?
“I mean, for me, I can’t change it, so I can’t be mad about it,” he said during a Zoom session with reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “I don’t think about the time I lost, I just tried to do my job when I came back.”
He has certainly done his job with aplomb. Despite a homerless spell the first three weeks of September, Soto has found his power stroke again the last two nights. And with two opposite-field blasts, he further solidified his rare stature as a power hitter to every part of the ballpark.
Soto’s 69 career home runs are perfectly spread around the field: 23 to right field, 23 to center field, 23 to left field.
“I just try to stay to the middle,” he insisted. “I try to see the ball well. I try to hit the ball deep. I just don’t think: ‘Try to hit a homer to right field here, homer to left field here.’ I just try to hit the ball hard and see where the ball goes. If the ball lands anywhere, I don’t mind. If it’s gone, it’s gone.”