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David Ortiz lauds Juan Soto's rare confidence, says Nationals star was seven years ahead of him

David Ortiz lauds Juan Soto's rare confidence, says Nationals star was seven years ahead of him

Juan Soto had all the talent you could hope for as a 20-year-old star outfielder in the major leagues, it was just a matter of him putting it all together. 

In the 2019 World Series against the Astros, the Nationals' phenom did just that, posting a .333/.438/.741 slash line to go along with three homers, seven RBI and a number of clutch hits in the seven-game series. 

Not only that, but Soto raked against the Astros with so much confidence that he caught the eye of Red Sox legend and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz. 

The greatest DH of all time noticed a particular at-bat against Astros ace Justin Verlander. Verlander threw a fastball high for a ball, and his catcher argued the strike zone with the umpire given Verlander's desire to throw up in the zone. 

"And during this argument Soto got in and he said, 'Tell him to throw it a bit lower and I'll show him where's the strike zone,'" Ortiz said in a recent interview. "Believe me, I was watching all of that. Then Verlander threw the pitch he was asking for and Soto almost got the ball way out of the stadium. In my language, as a guy who played baseball professionally for 20 years ... I learned that confidence this kid already has at 21 years old, I got that confidence at about 28 years old. He's seven years ahead of me."

By the time Ortiz turned 28, he had played over seven seasons in the majors (two with Boston) and had hit 130 home runs to go with a .278/.359/.517 slash line. Once he got settled in on the Red Sox, Ortiz began to solidify himself as one of the game's best sluggers. 

Just two seasons into his professional career, Soto has hit .286/.403/.535 with 56 home runs. You don't want to start making impossible comparisons for a player just 21 years old, but Soto's first two years have been incredible. Not to mention the fact he delivered Washington its first World Series championship. 

Once the 2020 season gets underway, we'll see how high Soto can climb. It'll be difficult without Anthony Rendon in the lineup, though he seemed to do fine filling the void left by Bryce Harper.

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Champs with an asterisk? Not this year's World Series champ

Champs with an asterisk? Not this year's World Series champ

Just because the eventual 2020 World Series champion will have played fewer games, don't expect the rest of Major League Baseball to look at them with a scoff. 

In fact, it's apparently viewed by players as an even taller task given the circumstances of this year. 

"I did a story, this was a couple weeks ago, I talked to managers, GMs, players, and they all swore, you know, up an down, that's it's gonna mean even more, just because of what you've been through," USA Today's Bob Nightengale said on the Nationals Talk podcast. "Starting Spring Training. Stopping Spring Training. Not knowing when you're going to pick up again. So emotionally, physically, it's a very challenging season. So, the managers will tell you this might even mean more than just a regular season."

There's no question baseball is in the middle of something they've never experienced before, and it would be a lazy argument to brush aside the accomplishments of any successful team in 2020, let alone the one that wins it all.

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The number of regular season games played is minuscule compared to the mental toll the last couple of months has taken on everyone involved in the sport.

The human element of sports is far too often overlooked, and anyone deciding to put an asterisk on this season would be doing just that. 

Unique circumstances tend to bring out the best in the best. How this year's best, whenever the season gets going, reacts to those circumstances, will truly be a remarkable achievement. 

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How Stephen Strasburg changed his narrative in one postseason run

How Stephen Strasburg changed his narrative in one postseason run

When Stephen Strasburg entered the 2019 season, he had a reputation of fragility and, as a result, unavailability when it came to the playoffs.

The former No. 1 overall pick had missed two of the four playoff series the Nationals had appeared in since drafting him as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in a generation. While he had certainly shown more than a few flashes of the potential Washington saw in him, there were few instances when he was able to put it all together and stay on the field in time for the postseason.

That all changed last October, when Strasburg led the National League in innings (209) and placed fifth in NL Cy Young voting before cruising through the playoffs to the tune of a 5-0 record with a 1.98 ERA and 47 strikeouts across 36 1/3 innings. He also took World Series MVP honors, highlighted by a Game 6 near-complete game, as the Nationals claimed D.C.’s first baseball championship since 1924.

Now, Strasburg didn’t touch his career high in innings (215 in 2014) nor did he claim his best finish for the Cy Young award (placed third in 2017). He even once struck out 12 Chicago Cubs over seven scoreless innings to stave off elimination in the 2017 NLDS while battling the flu.

The signs were all there, but Strasburg’s historic playoff run changed the narrative around his career and cemented him as one of the premiere playoff pitchers in all of baseball.

USA TODAY baseball columnist Bob Nightengale joined NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas, Nick Ashooh and Chase Hughes on Wednesday's episode of the Nationals Talk podcast and weighed in on how Strasburg improved his reputation on a national scale.

“I think [he has] just the warrior mentality now—taking the ball, winning big games, a clutch performer,” Nightengale said. “I think that with the Nationals’ World Series run, I think it benefit his reputation more than anybody else. [He’s now] seen as a tough guy. He’s probably always been that way but I don’t think he had that perception from peers, fans, media, that sort of thing.”

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Before the year began, critics were skeptical that Strasburg would exercise the first of the two player options in his contract to remain in D.C. rather than test free agency. Fresh off parading down Constitution Avenue, he opted out of that deal and scored a new one: seven years and $245 million, giving him the largest contract in Nationals history.

Of course, there are still plenty of questions surrounding Strasburg’s ability to remain healthy and productive all the way through his age-37 season (the final year of his contract). Prior to 2019, he was on a streak of four straight seasons with fewer than 30 starts and 200 innings—and only once in that span did he eclipse 25 starts and 150 innings.

But with a World Series MVP award on his resume, there’s now no question the Strasburg can perform in the playoffs even after handling a significant workload during the regular season.

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