Nicky Lopez is in a bad slump, but don’t blame him for the KC Royals’ skid.
He’s played every game but one for the KC Royals this season. Only twice in the 30 games he’s started has he hit anywhere but last in the lineup, the slot customarily reserved for the weakest hitter, the player least likely to succeed at the plate.
Yet Nicky Lopez, currently the most qualified Royal to hit at the bottom of the order, remains a prime focus of those seeking to assign some singular blame for Kansas City’s abysmal losing streak that reached eight games after Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the White Sox. The defeat capped a winless seven-game homestand for the Royals, who led the American League Central when it started Monday, but now find themselves in third place, 3.5 games behind the Sox, and under .500 for the first time this season.
Lopez provides plenty of ammunition for blame assessors. His seventh inning triple Sunday was only his fourth hit since his last good game at the plate, a 2-for-4 April 20 effort that remains his sole multi-hit game in the last 16 he’s played. With his prolonged 4-for-42 slump over that span, his .240 rookie average and .201 2020 effort, the .118 he hit in spring training, and his current .200, Lopez now looks more like a player proving he can’t hit major league pitching than the one who was batting .304 less than three weeks ago.
Kansas City desperately needs more offense at shortstop. Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution.
Adalberto Mondesi is the ultimate answer, but no one knows when he’ll return from the right oblique injury that deprived the KC Royals of his services and has yet to return him. At least one recent report places him working at the club’s spring complex where the switch-hitter bats from the right side, but not yet the left.
Until Mondesi gets back, what about Bobby Witt Jr., the organization’s No. 1 MLB Pipeline prospect? He’s the popular stopgap choice, a natural shortstop who made a decent sprint training case to break camp with the big club, but an asset who the Royals prefer to cautiously nurture until the moment is just right. And his 4-for-20 start and 35 percent strikeout rate at Double-A Northwest Arkansas justifies leaving him right where he is for now.
How about Alcides Escobar, the Royals’ trusty shortstop during their 2014-2015 World Series seasons who signed a minor league deal with the team last Tuesday? Perhaps, but he played at Triple-A Omaha for the first time Sunday and went 0-for-2. He hasn’t played in the majors since hitting .231 for KC in 2018, but did manage a .273 season with the Yakult Swallows in Japan last year. He may need more work at Omaha before facing big league pitching again.
Or maybe Hanser Alberto, the Royals’ versatile utility infielder who’s seen a bit of time at short this year? He’s the logical internal choice, and his .227 average is better than Lopez’s. But it still isn’t quite the number Kansas City needs.
Maybe a trade is the answer? Unlikely, because trading in this situation leaves the club with an extra player when Mondesi returns. So, Lopez will probably continue to play short, with Alberto taking an occasional turn.
That may not please the blame-gamers, but the fact of the matter is Lopez isn’t solely responsible for the club’s horrid play—there’s plenty of fault to be deservedly shared among his teammates.
Jorge Soler, who set a club home run record with 48 just two seasons ago, is hitting .191 with just two homers and has fanned 39 times. He’s known to start slowly, but adhering to his norm isn’t helping the club.
Hunter Dozier’s five home runs have him on pace for almost 25, just one shy of his career best, but such extrapolations aren’t infallible, and he’s hitting .158 with a .227 OBP.
Whit Merrifield shows recent signs of breaking out of a slump of his own, but his .271 through Sunday is a bit under his usual effort.
Ryan O’Hearn is beginning to see more action, although his .212 average and .297 OBP need much improvement.
On the mound, there are no complaints about Danny Duffy (4-2, 1.26 ERA), and Brady Singer’s 1-3 record doesn’t reflect how increasingly well he’s pitched. Inconsistency, however, continues to plague Brad Keller and Mike Minor and shows signs of infecting Daniel Lynch. Kris Bubic, however, was absolutely stellar in 5.2 relief innings Saturday and may soon get a start.
The bullpen, a concern of few going into this season, is now struggling. Unless he finds himself back in the rotation soon, Jakob Junis’ addition to the pen, and Bubic, should help stabilize things.
Nicky Lopez may be an easy target (especially after making an out with the bases loaded to end a 3-0 loss to Chicago Friday night), but he isn’t the only reason these Royals are floundering. It’s a collective collapse requiring a collective solution.
The KC Royals are off Monday before starting a seven game road trip Tuesday. They’ll play three in Detroit against the last-place Tigers, then four—including a split doubleheader Friday—with the White Sox.