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Juan Soto and Josh Bell continue to go tit for tat for Washington Nationals’ home run lead

With three weeks to go in the season, Josh Bell and Juan Soto are having a friendly competition for the home run lead...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Little Things. Washington Nationals’ skipper, Dave Martinez, usually wheels out that cliché in regards to his team’s fundamentals on the baseball field.

Given where the team is right now, it might be important for the Nationals to enjoy some of the other little things that are happening as a season that hasn’t gone to plan peters out with just three weeks to go.

Obviously, watching Juan Soto dominate at the plate is one of those little things, but hitting behind him, Josh Bell has been flying under the radar with his performance at the plate.

They hit back-to-back, are the last two regulars standing from the trade deadline sell-off, and, lately, have been going back-and-forth in the race to lead the team in home runs this season.

They’ve both had down spells this year, Bell got off to a slow start after coming off of the COVID List, and Soto had ground ball issues this summer, but since the deadline, it feels like when one of them goes deep, the other quickly follows it up at some point within the next 24 hours.

It’s been a back-and-forth affair between them as neither has pulled out a big lead at any point.

Bell was the latest to crush a ball over the fence when he notched his 26th home run of the season against his former team at PNC Park, leaving Soto in second with 25 home runs.

Juan Soto and Josh Bell 2021 home runs

“I feel like I’m getting a lot more chances than he is,” Bell joked after his home run on Friday.

“He’s getting walked a ton, but it’s fun, it’s fun to go back and forth, and if we push past 30 and see how far we can get.”

When there are very few legitimate offensive threats in the lineup right now, teams are pitching around Soto. They are adamant not to let him beat them with his bat.

Pitchers make mistakes though, and when Soto is locked in as he has been since the Home Run Derby, really, he’s able to capitalize on the few pitches that he sees in a given game and is still able to do plenty of damage.

“I mean, I feel like he swings at a ball once a week, so that’s always fun to watch,” Bell explained. “He seems like he’s in every at-bat, and he’s constantly putting the barrel on the baseball.”

Soto is enjoying the friendly competition between the two sluggers too.

It even reminds him of two seasons ago when he and another great hitter were back-to-back in the Nationals’ lineup on a daily basis.

“It feels exactly the same how it was in 2019 when Anthony Rendon and me we were back and [forth] with the homers and everything,” Soto explained. “I remember we hit our 30th home run on the same day.

“It’s just fun man. And more just — JB loves every time I hit the ball, and I love to see him just hitting the ball over the fence because he’s extremely powerful and I know he can hit some balls way far.”

If Soto can crank five more home runs and Bell can tack on an extra four, they would be the first pair of Nationals to both hit 30 home runs since Soto and Rendon did it in 2019, and just the third pairing since the team moved to D.C. in 2005, with the other occurrence coming when Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman both reached that plateau in 2009.

With two prolific power hitters in the middle of the lineup and not much else since the deadline, do they feel like they’re pitching them slightly differently since then?

“We really haven’t talked about it,” Bell said. “I feel like it’s just known at this point, you know, it seems like bigger scenarios if there’s a base open they just walk him.

“It was one of those things tonight, I think he went four straight, it was maybe the eighth inning it was 2-0 slider in the dirt, and then 3-0 fastball way above the zone.

“I was like, ‘Intentional walks are things too if you’re going to make pitches like that.’”

In a lost season for the Nationals, it’s okay for fans to enjoy some of the little things other than the result of the remaining games. Bell and Soto’s home run race with both crushing the ball as the season comes to a close is one such thing. Baseballs, beware...