Numbers, as the saying goes, don’t lie. And what they say about KC Royals Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler lead to one unfortunate, inescapable conclusion.
Both players need to sit out a game or two. Maybe more. Their May-long—and season-long, in Soler’s case—slumps continue to hurt the club. Manager Mike Matheny must, for their sake and that of his team’s, give both, who’ve played every game so far this season, time to recharge.
The case to sit Soler is ironclad, a decision to do so long overdue. He hasn’t hit at all. The slow start rationale is no longer rational—his .144 May average is over 60 points lower than the .205 he struggled through April to achieve. His game-ending groundout in Thursday’s loss to Tampa Bay rendered him hitless in 21 at-bats and one for his last 31. Over his last 10 games, the designated hitter-outfielder is 2-for 35 (.057) with a home run and two RBIs; his strikeout rate is 47% over that span.
His season slash is an unacceptable .171/.253/.311.
Soler looks suspiciously like a batter trying to homer his way out of a miserable slump—swings are too often long, forced and too hard, he frequently chases bad pitches, and contact appears less a priority to him than power. The flaws seem rooted in approach, not technique or mechanics.
Sadly, Soler isn’t the same Soler who demolished the Royals’ single season home run record two seasons ago. The reasons Matheny continues to play him no longer outweigh his ineffective bat, and the decision to remove Soler from the lineup, if only briefly, should be easy. It’s time for Soler, a powerful force when he’s on his game, to take some time off.
The KC Royals must sit the uncharacteristically slumping Whit Merrifield.
The Royal constant for the past three seasons, the player no one worried or fretted about, has been Merrifield, who from 2018-2020 led the major leagues in hits and at-bats twice while establishing himself as an effective leadoff man and the most versatile and reliable player on the club.
This season, though, is alarmingly different. After a reasonable April (.274/.318/.411), Merrifield’s average is .249, an odd clip for a steady hitter whose season average hasn’t dipped below .282 since he broke in with Kansas City in 2016. An awful May (.220) accounts for his .249 average through Thursday, and he’s 8-for-37 (.216) with one RBI in his last 10 games.
Merrifield’s troubles at the plate don’t run quite as deep as Soler’s but, like his teammate, mechanics appear less responsible than approach. Merrifield seems uncomfortable in the box and is visibly frustrated when hits evade him.
Is Merrifield’s consecutive game streak, which reached 355 Thursday, a factor? Perhaps, which might explain why Hanser Alberto spelled him at second base with the KC Royals behind 7-0 in the fifth inning Thursday.
But the streak for its own sake is just an interesting sidebar, meaningless within the greater context of the Royals’ fortunes. Streak or no streak, Merrifield needs a couple of days off.
Who plays where if the KC Royals bench Merrifield and Soler for a bit?
Fortunately, sitting Merrifield and Soler is manageable—benching either probably wouldn’t last long and sufficient temporary replacements are available. Jarrod Dyson can take over right field where Soler has played regularly. And assuming he finishes his Triple-A rehab assignment soon, Hunter Dozier could play right if necessary because Hanser Alberto or Kelvin Gutierrez are certainly adequate at third base. Nicky Lopez, who’s filled in at shortstop for Adalberto Mondesi, can return to second base now that Mondesi is back.
Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler are struggling. Their manager needs to give them some time off.