KC Royals: 3 battles to watch down the 2021 stretch

(Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports) /
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KC Royals, Salvador Perez
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

One thing was certain about the KC Royals when spring training ended and they headed North to begin their season—they weren’t playoff-bound.

They still aren’t, and won’t be. Despite winning 10 of the last 14 games, going 23-18 since the All-Star Break, and leading the American League Central for three weeks earlier in the season, the Royals were 16 games out of first and 15 behind in the Wild Card race with 32 games remaining immediately after Sunday’s game loss to Seattle.

Those deficits are too much to overcome even for a team playing as well as Kansas City is.

But that doesn’t mean fans should lose interest in this club. The Royals’ next win will be their 60th, a mark they haven’t achieved since winning 80 times in 2017. They have a shot at 75 victories and, because they’re only 2.5 games behind third-place Detroit and six behind second-place Cleveland, another at a respectable Division finish.

And some serious battles for a team lead, a club record, and a year-end award are brewing. Let’s see what fans should watch closely as the season winds down.

Two infielders are in close competition for the KC Royals’ batting title.

That Whit Merrifield may finish the season with Kansas City’s best batting average isn’t even mildly surprising. After all, he’s led the majors in hits twice in the last three seasons, the Royals in hitting for three campaigns in a row, and is batting .280 for a 2021 club that hasn’t been spectacular at the plate.

What is surprising, however, is that Merrifield doesn’t own KC’s top average; more surprising, and perhaps shocking, is that Nicky Lopez does. After going 3-for-4 Sunday (his third consecutive three-hit game), while Merrifield had a rare no-hit effort, Lopez’s .292 leads the club.

And there lies the Royals’ best head-to-head competition, one that should go down to the wire. Lopez is in a period of sustained good hitting with a .336 average since the All-Star Break. His .333 June foretold a resurgence in the previously weak-hitting Lopez that a .338 July affirmed. He’s hitting .418 over his last 14 games.

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Although he’s not having his typical season at the plate, Merrifield is close enough to Lopez to make a race for the team batting title interesting. Merrifield looked like a hitter in need of a break after dipping to .249 in late May, and seemed back on track after a torrid .351 June. But he slumped to .229 in July; entering this month, he was batting a decent, but un-Whit-like, .273.

Now, Merrifield’s .304 August has him on Lopez’s heels. Both are hot, and so is their friendly competition for the KC Royals’ best average.