Fri Sep 24 1:13am ET
Juan Soto keeps giving fans of the last-place Washington Nationals plenty of reasons to keep watching as the season draws to a close.
Opposing pitchers can't seem to find a way to retire the Nationals' right fielder, as he has reached base 11 straight times heading into Friday's second game of their four-game series with the host Cincinnati Reds.
In his last 16 games, Soto is 29-for-54 (.537) with four doubles, one triple, five homers, 12 RBIs, 19 walks, one hit-by-pitch, one stolen base and 16 runs scored.
"He's a player that's having an unbelievable year," said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. "It's the Most Valuable Player. It's one player. For me, Juan should have consideration to be in that MVP (contention). He's had a phenomenal year."
The 22-year-old Soto is also making history.
In the first inning Thursday against Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo, Soto worked a walk. The free pass gave Soto 131 on the season, one more than Bryce Harper's previous franchise mark of 130 in 2018.
The Nationals' right fielder is the only qualified player in the majors to have more walks (131) than strikeouts (84) this season, and also leads with a 1.56 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
"It feels really good," Soto said. "After that slow start (to the season) and then just coming from the bottom and coming all the way up, it feels great. We're going to see at the end of the day how it goes."
For the Reds, the 3-2 loss Thursday marked their 18th defeat in their last 27 games. They have fallen all but mathematically out of contention in the race for the second National League wild-card spot.
With the St. Louis Cardinals wiping out a 5-0 hole in Milwaukee earlier in the day and sweeping the Brewers with an 8-5 win, their 12th straight victory, the Reds fell 5 1/2 games back in the wild-card chase.
"For us, the focus of the last 10 days is to absolutely leave it all on the field and finish as strong as we possibly can," Reds manager David Bell said. "We'll see where we end up. Obviously, we can't control the Cardinals because we don't play them anymore."
The Nationals will send right-hander Paolo Espino (5-5, 3.94 ERA) to the mound in the second game of the series. Espino will be making his first career start against Cincinnati.
Espino will be starting his 18th game of the season and is coming off one of the best outings of the bunch. On Sunday in Washington, he allowed just three hits while striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings in a 3-0 win over Colorado.
The Reds will counter with right-hander Sonny Gray (7-8, 3.84). Gray allowed two hits over six shutout innings in a 3-0 win at Washington on May 27 for his first victory of 2021. Gray is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in six career starts against the Nationals.
--Field Level Media
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