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Even Juan Soto strikes out — once a week or so — but he’s still almost unstoppable

Just put him on? He scores anyway.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Cincinnati Reds
Juan Soto ended a streak of reaching base in 12 straight plate appearances in Friday’s 8-7, 10-inning loss to Cincinnati. But he still walked four times, scored three runs and remained the major leagues’ leading hitter at .324 with eight games left in the season.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto struck out leading off the fifth inning of Friday night’s 8-7, 11-inning Washington Nationals’ loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

He also walked four times and scored three runs, including the tying run in the ninth. But the Nats’ 22-year-old superstar has already done all that plenty of times this week.

Soto hadn’t struck out since Tuesday in Miami. It was also the last time he failed to reach base safely in that span, racking up 12 straight plate appearances where he reached base.

That set a Nationals’ team mark and put him on the same page with Hall of Famers.

But even with an official 0-for-2 line, Soto remained the major leagues’ leading hitter at .324, four points ahead of former teammate Trea Turner, now in Los Angeles.

Manager Davey Martinez knows his MVP candidate has been locked in.

“He’s been unbelievable,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Friday’s game. “He’s one of the best when it comes to plate discipline, and you set it every night. It doesn’t shock me that he’s doing what he’s doing, we talk about it all the time, but he’s been so good at taking pitches, getting on base, getting the balls that he can hit and hitting them hard.”

During this week’s tear to the top of the National League batting race — from his Tuesday strikeout through Friday’s whiff in the fifth — here are Soto’s PAs: Safe on throwing error, double, double, home run, walk, single, intentional walk, walk, single, home run, home run, walk, walk.

That’s not just 24 bases, six runs, and five RBIs in with a 1.500 OPS in 12 PAs.

That’s locked in on a near-historic level.

Soto’s on-base streak of a dozen plate appearances tops Nick Johnson’s team record of 10 set in 2009 and is a run at a big league mark that hasn’t been topped in 128 years.

The major league record is 17, set by Piggy Ward of Cincinnati in 1893. Earl Averill, Jr., son of the Hall of Famer, matched that streak with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962, but only a few players have even come close. Ted Williams reached base in 16 straight plate appearances in 1957, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman had a streak of 14 in April of this year.

If that’s not elite enough company, try this: Soto’s four walks Friday put him on base four times for the 25th time this season. Who’s hit that benchmark? Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Williams, and Barry Bonds.

Martinez didn’t flinch at such comparisons following Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Reds.

“I said this, I think maybe a couple years ago, where I said I played with a guy that was pretty impressive in his day, and that was Barry,” said the manager, who played with and against Bonds in 16 major league seasons from 1986 through 2001. “I said, if he keeps going the way he’s going, I mean, if you compare anybody to Barry it would be Juan right now.”

Soto’s strikeout on Friday came against a left-hander, Amir Garrett, who was sent in to face him with the Reds trailing 4-2. As he did with starter Sonny Gray in the first and third, Soto fouled off a few 3-2 pitches, but against Garrett, he finally went down on a slider that was a few inches low, but home plate umpire Ryan Addition ruled he did not check his swing.

Soto’s seventh strikeout this month, versus 27 walks, was a questionable judgment call against a hitter who rarely swings and misses.

Soto’s efficiency in the zone is at the heart of the lowest strikeout rate in baseball of 13.7 percent and the game’s highest walk rate at 21.4 percent, according to MLB’s advanced stats. His whiff percentage (swings and misses) of 19.6 percent is in the top 20 percent of all hitters in baseball and the lowest of his career.

Soto came up again in the seventh, trailing 6-4, and worked a full count for the third time, but was out on a hard liner to shortstop Eugenio Suárez.

That marked the first time since Monday in Miami he’s been out twice in one game and the first time he’d been out on consecutive at-bats since Sept. 15 against Miami.

And when teams just put Soto on? He usually scores anyway.

After Soto’s two-out walk in the first on Friday, Josh Bell drove a ball to right that Nick Castellanos took his time retrieving.

Soto, however, wasted no time rounding second, and kicking into another gear rounding third, as coach Bobby Henley windmilled him home ahead of the throw with the game’s first run.

His trip around the bases in the third was slower, but no less productive, advancing to third on a pair of groundouts and scoring on Kiebert Ruiz’s single to make it 3-0 Nats.

After his successive outs, Soto got an intentional walk to load the bases in the top of the ninth, with the Reds leading 7-5. Then the Reds walked Bell behind him to load the bases. Soto still came home to to score the tying run on Luis García’s single through the hole at short.

Only in the 11th, with the score tied at 7-7, with two out, did the Reds stop Soto from scoring after they’d put him on. He was stranded at second on pinch-hitter Riley Adams’ ground ball to first for the third out.

Garcia said after Friday’s game that he’s picked up a lot during Soto’s surge.

“I’ve learned a lot. A lot. And not just in this little stretch. But ever since I’ve known him and ever since I’ve been up here, I’ve learned a lot from him.

“Obviously staying back on my backside as well as he does, and the focus that he has every at-bat, I’m trying to put that into play as well, and keep learning. I still am learning a lot from him, and just watching him play, a very great player, and I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can.”