With the final series of 2019 looming for the Kansas City Royals looming, and the guarantee of another 100-plus loss season already cemented, it may be easy to go into this series as a Royals fan and ignore it, especially with the Kansas City Chiefs playing the undefeated Lions this weekend. However, while I’m sure many in the Royals organization are looking forward to this season mercifully ending, and are ready to start the rebuilding process for 2020, there still are some interesting story lines to pay attention to during this three-game weekend series at Kauffman Stadium.
Let’s take a look at three importing things to pay attention to this weekend in regard to the Royals’ final home stand of the year, whether you’re in the stands at the K or simply watching or listening from home.
Will Jorge Soler hit No. 46?
Soler has not hit a home run since September 16th against the A’s on the road in Oakland. Currently, Soler is tied for the lead for home runs in the American League with Mike Trout, who is out for the remainder of the season. After hitting that home run 11 days ago, it seemed like a done deal that Soler would be the sole leader in the AL in home runs by season’s end, which would be the first instance of this accolade in the Royals’ 51-year history.
However, while Soler has been impressive in his last seven games, posting a .346/.469/.500 slash, he has not been able to launch one out of the park, and many are wondering if Soler will actually reach No. 46 or if he’ll get skunked from the honor, especially against a good Twins team that has just won the AL Central. It’s possible that the Twins will rest their traditional starters as they prepare for the playoffs, so that should play in Soler’s favor going into this weekend, as he won’t be going against the Twins’ best pitchers. That being said, Royals fans will be on pins and needles throughout this three-game series, as Soler’s home run chase has been one of the few bright spots for this Royals club and it would be an incredible disappointment for Soler as well as Royals fans if he is unable to get home run number 46 this weekend.
Can Nicky Lopez continue his hot streak?
In his last seven games, Lopez is posting a slash of .500/.542/.773 over 22 at-bats, one of the best marks on the team in that time span. Lopez is filling in for Adalberto Mondesi, who was injured over the Twins series in Minneapolis, and is expected to miss 5-6 months after having surgery. Lopez’s debut in 2019 has been a bit of a mixed bag: while has flashed impressive defense (he is worth 4.7 runs above average defensively according to Fangraphs), his offense has been lackluster overall, as he is posting a .241 average, .599 OPS and a wRC+ of 55 this season.
However, while many were quick to dismiss Lopez as a backup infielder in 2020 as recently as a few weeks ago, suddenly the hot streak has made Royals fans wonder if Lopez may be worthy of being the Opening Day starter at second base in 2020. Lopez is already a defensive upgrade over Whit Merrifield at the second base position, and it will be curious to see what Dayton Moore does with Merrifield this off-season, especially since Whit plateaued a bit overall in 2019 after a career-year in 2018 (his WAR fell from 5.2 in 2018 to 2.6 in 2019). If Lopez continues to mash in this final home stand and makes a commitment to getting bigger and stronger this off-season, it will definitely put more pressure on Moore when it comes to not just what to do with Lopez going forward, but Merrifield as well, especially since his name will be talked about by contending general managers at the Winter Meetings.
Is this Gordo’s final series at the K as a Royal (and maybe ever)?
We all know about this being manager Ned Yost’s final series. However, while that has been talked about for a week, one storyline that has been mentioned as much, due to the hoopla and “official-ness” of Yost’s retirement, concerns Alex Gordon. Gordo is in the last year of his contract, and it has been widely circulated that 2019 would be Gordo’s last year not just as a Royal, but perhaps in baseball overall. Now granted, when all this speculation occurred in the beginning of the year, Gordo was coming off a pretty mediocre season where he posted a wRC+ of 89 and a WAR of 1.6, so considering the decline and advanced age (35 years old), many figured it was time for the longtime Royal to hang it up.
Gordo has improved a bit at the plate this season, as he improved his wRC+ to 95. However, his defense has declined, as he was worth 10.6 runs above average defensively last year, and fell to only 3.2 runs above average in 2019. While Gordo continues to be a class act who plays the game hard and has been a solid mentor to younger outfielders like Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling, it’s obvious that he is not the player he once was during those strong years from 2013-2016.
And thus, with the Royals in dire need of a rebuild, and needing to shake things up, it is likely that the Royals will let Gordo walk in free agency. Hence, the big question will be, not only will this series be Gordo’s last as a Royal, but will it be his last in baseball in general? Not only has Gordo been a fan favorite here in Kansas City since being drafted out of the University of Nebraska, but he has been with the Royals through thick and thin, similar to Felix Hernandez, who had a roaring farewell in Seattle last night that I wish Royals fans could replicate at the K (but probably won’t, unfortunately…not on Chiefs Sunday). Gordo deserves something like this below after all he’s done for the Royals and Kansas City:
Hopefully answers to Gordo’s future will become clearer by season’s end, so some kind of recognition can be had for a player who has represented the best of what the Kansas City Royals organization has been about over his career.
So if you’re at the K and whenever Gordo comes up to the dish, make sure to cheer hard.
Because it’s pretty likely you won’t see Gordo in the blue and white again (or maybe in baseball ever again) after this weekend.