KC Royals managing without Jorge Soler’s home runs

The KC Royals long ago made the choice not to live on the home run. One look at Kauffman Stadium, the ballpark that refuses to let time pass it by, explains why. It’s a spacious venue that forces the club to capitalize on speed, hits in the gaps, and stellar defense, not barrages of homers.

Whether the park dictated the club’s philosophy, or franchise philosophy drove the design, really doesn’t matter. The Royals don’t, and probably never will, build teams around power, not unless proponents of a downtown stadium someday prevail and build a smaller park more suitable for long ball teams.

Kansas City has a handful of players with power, but none possess quite the power potential as Jorge Soler, the team’s outfielder-designated hitter who set the club home run record with 48 two seasons ago. But he’d hit only four homers this season before a groin issue forced him out of Saturday’s game against Minnesota in the first inning, and those four blasts extrapolate to about 13 for a full season.

Soler hasn’t played since, so the Royals have been without his services for basically four games; in reality, however, and other than those four home runs, they’ve been without the upper end of his power for the entire season. That’s not to demean his 24 RBIs, a sixth of which derive from homers, but his lack of home runs matches the depth of his season-long slump (.178/.257/.314).

Fortunately, Soler’s lack of home runs hasn’t measurably hurt the club, and some proof of that lies in what happened Tuesday night at The K. Without Soler, the KC Royals overcame another rough Brady Singer start to beat Pittsburgh 10-5 and sweep the Pirates in the teams’ short two-game series. Home runs did the trick.

The Bucs had already scored four times off Singer when Salvador Perez, KC’s round-tripper leader with 10 coming into the game, launched a two-run shot into the visitors’ bullpen in the fourth to get his club squarely back in the game at 4-3:

Andrew Benintendi, red-hot since a bad April (.225 with one homer) soured his Kansas City start, powered a Wil Crowe four-seamer out to left for a grand slam that scored Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield and Carlos Santana to break a 4-4 tie and give Kansas City the lead it never relinquished:

It was Benintendi’s fifth home run of the season and moved him past Soler’s four.

The spotlight returned to Perez two innings later:

His second bullpen blast of the night made it 9-5 and gave him the club lead with 12, two more than Santana.

Benintendi’s slam and Perez’s two solo homers gave KC six runs it couldn’t have won without, and a win without Soler’s help. But the result isn’t that surprising.

The KC Royals are surviving without Jorge Soler hitting a lot of home runs.

Soler’s four homers haven’t definitively made or broken any Kansas City game yet this season. His first came with no one on in the fourth inning on Opening Day and tied the game 8-8, but the Royals went on to beat Texas 14-10.

His second came 20 days later and cut Tampa Bay’s 4-2 lead to one. KC won 9-8, making Soler’s homer a factor, but not a determinative one.

The Royals waited another 20 days for Soler’s next homer. This time two runners were on against Cleveland, but the Royals lost anyway.

Soler hit his fourth, and to date last, home run two weeks ago against Milwaukee. Another solo shot, it tied the game, but Kansas City ended up winning by two.

And since Soler went down Saturday, the Royals have averaged seven runs per game without him in the lineup. Perez and Adalberto Mondesi have two home runs apiece in that span, and Hunter Dozier has one.

The point isn’t that Kansas City doesn’t need Jorge Soler; they’d probably be better off if he were bashing at the same 48-homer rate he did in 2019, although they also lost 103 games that season, a mark they probably—and fortunately—won’t reach in 2021 with or without Soler.

Rather, the point is the Royals are managing without his frequent power. Only three of their 27 wins feature Soler home runs, and to only one—the one-run victory over Milwaukee—was his homer arguably critical. Whether the Royals would have won more than they have with more Soler home runs is quite possible, but the fact the homers he’s contributed haven’t made much difference is something the club should consider with the July trade season not far away.

Jorge Soler will likely return to the KC Royals’ lineup soon. He can make a difference if his power also returns; if it doesn’t, the club will manage.