Juan Soto dealing with ‘challenge’ of switching from Nationals to Padres

Soto dealing with ‘challenge’ of switching from Nats to Padres originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Twenty-eight games into his San Diego Padres tenure, Juan Soto is enduring something he never faced during his Nationals career: boos from the home crowd.

During his 0-for-4 performance Tuesday amid a 2-for-27 skid over his last eight games, Soto returned to his dugout at PETCO Park multiple times to the sound of disgruntled Padres fans. He’s hit .235 with three home runs and a .773 OPS overall since being traded in early August, still drawing his walks in true Soto fashion but falling short of superstar expectations.

The 23-year-old told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee that while he had never been booed in D.C. before, he understood why Padres fans were frustrated. He also commented on the biggest challenge he’s faced going from the last-place Nationals to a playoff contender.

“The challenge is just going from a team that doesn’t care about anything because they know they don’t go anywhere to a team that has a really good chance to win the World Series,” Soto said, as quoted by Acee. “That changes everything from one day to another.”

While a harsh assessment of his former club, Soto spoke at different points this season about the pressure he put on himself trying to carry a struggling Nationals offense as the losses piled up. During his introductory press conference with the Padres, he shared that “to go from a team that has no chance to come all the way here, it's a great feeling.”

After being thrust into the role of franchise cornerstone for a rebuilding team, Soto now must face the expectations that come with hitting in the middle of the lineup for a contender. He’s no stranger to that role — Soto primarily hit fourth during the Nationals’ 2019 World Series run — but perhaps out of practice with Washington missing the playoffs each of the last two years.

His presence in the lineup became even more important when Fernando Tatís Jr. was slapped with an 80-game PED suspension. The star shortstop was expected to return from an injury he sustained in an offseason motorcycle accident in time for the playoffs, but now won’t be eligible to play again until 2023.

San Diego entered play Wednesday tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL Wild Card spot, so Soto’s struggles haven’t done anything to damper the Padres’ playoff hopes. But there will come a time when the Padres are looking to him to lift them in a big moment with the season on the line, and there will be no escaping those boos if he doesn’t come through.