Washington Nationals’ bench coach Chip Hale, filling in for manager Davey Martinez on the road in St. Louis last month, was asked after Juan Soto and Victor Robles drove in runs late in a 6-2 win over the Cardinals in Busch Stadium, about what allowed the Nationals’ 20 and 22-year-old outfielders to produce in late-game at bats when as they had that night with an RBI single by Robles and sac fly by Soto adding to the Nats’ lead in the only game they won in that series.
“Well I’ll tell you, Vic, all year, even if he struggled in a game he has a flair for the dramatic, and he will come up with big hits, and he’s not afraid of the moment, which is a beautiful thing for a young kid,” Hale told reporters.
“He and Soto, I think they thrive in those situations,” Hale added. “So not surprised one bit.
“And very proud of him. It’s not easy at this point in the year, they’re tired, they’re battling their tails off, and they want to be the guys up there, so I was very proud of Vic tonight.”
Robles wrapped up his first full season in the majors with a .269/.330/.376 line in the month of September, with seven doubles and a home run in 26 games and 103 plate appearances down the stretch in a .255/.326/.419, 33 double, 17 home run, 2.5 fWAR campaign.
He said he’s ready for the challenge of playing postseason baseball for the first time when he spoke to reporters in advance of the Nationals’ Wild Card Game with Milwaukee in the nation’s capital tonight.
“It’s the same game,” Robles said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr on Monday afternoon.
“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.”
Soto struggled down the stretch, putting up a .221/.389/.453 line in September, though he did hit eight doubles and four home runs, while walking as many times (24) as he K’d (24) in 27 games and 113 PAs, leaving him with a .282/.401/.548 line, 32 doubles, 34 homers, and a total of 110 RBIs and 110 runs scored in a 4.7 fWAR season.
After a 2 for 25 funk over a ten-game stretch late in the final month of the season, which did see him walk 13 times in 44 plate appearances, Soto went 2 for 9 with two doubles and two walks in the final series last weekend, which his manager saw as a sign that he was locked in again.
“I’m really excited, really happy,” Soto told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Kerr.
“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.”
“I knew Juan would figure it out,” Martinez said after the regular season finale on Sunday.
“He just went through a little funk and I started noticing his swing getting better a couple days ago, and he’s hitting the ball well.”
What gives the Nationals confidence that Robles and Soto are ready for the spotlight of the postseason this early in their respective big league careers?
“They’re competitive,” Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer told reporters as he prepared for his 17th game and 14th start in six career trips to the postseason.
“They go out there and they lay it on the line,” he said of the two young outfielders. “You can have as much experience as you want, but the guys who go out there and compete the hardest and have the talent and have the mental fortitude, those guys always win, whether it’s your first time or your tenth time. There’s an extra gear here in postseason baseball, and I think both players that you talk about really have that extra gear.”
“I’ve seen them step up in the limelight,” Martinez said when he too was asked about his faith in Soto and Robles.
“I mean we’ve played some unbelievable games in New York and Atlanta, and these guys have performed really well, so I expect them to go out there and just have fun. The biggest thing with the young guys is just to 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.”
“The veterans are the veterans, they get it,” he added. “They understand, they understand what we’re playing for, so we’ve got a good mix of our young players and our veteran players, so I expect them to go out there tomorrow and just be themselves and have fun.”