Juan Soto can’t buy a hit right now

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It’s only natural to be weary of small-sample sizes, particularly in a sport with as many peaks and valleys as baseball, a six-month war of attrition where even future Hall-of-Famers like Mike Trout experience the occasional rough patch. And while it’s hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions from 33 games, a drop in the proverbial bucket for a player who most anticipate will enjoy a long and immensely successful major-league career, the early returns on San Diego’s Juan Soto trade have not been encouraging.

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The All-Star outfielder finds himself mired in a 3-for-42 rut (.071), dropping Soto’s season average to a pedestrian .237, well below his lifetime mark of .287. Soto has now gone 13 games without an extra-base hit, contributing only one RBI over that anemic stretch. Overall, the Dominican slugger has hit just .212 with three homers in 113 at-bats as a Padre, a stark departure from the mammoth .291/.427/.538 batting line he submitted over his five-year span in Washington.

To Soto’s credit, the former batting champ still boasts an outstanding .382 on-base percentage in his brief time with San Diego, a byproduct of his elite walk rate (he’s accepted a league-high 121 free passes, 33 more than runner-up Aaron Judge). And while the Friars remain in the driver’s seat for the NL’s third and final Wild Card berth (they entered the day with a two-game edge over Milwaukee), Soto has not been the savior they were hoping for, displaying little of the power that carried him to the $1-million grand prize at this year’s Home Run Derby.

Assuming what we’ve seen is an outlier attributed to the usual growing pains that come from adjusting to a new team and city on the fly (an even greater culture shock when it occurs midseason), it should be only a matter of time until the real Soto emerges, reminding us all why he was such a coveted commodity at this year’s trade deadline. Twenty-three with, realistically, a decade or more of big-league relevance still ahead of him, Soto may someday look back on his early Padres struggles as a necessary feeling-out period, a learning experience that ultimately made him a stronger, more complete player. But for the petty among us, particularly Nationals fans still bitter from the circumstances of his departure which included turning down a record $440-million extension, there’s a guilty pleasure to be had in seeing Soto humbled by his new surroundings, showing few, if any, glimpses of the player that led Washington to World Series glory in 2019.

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